Takeo province border police prevented 35 members of the Khmer Krom ethnic minority from entering Cambodia from Vietnam on Monday evening, police said Tuesday.
An Sam Ath, chief of the border police stationed in Kiri Vong district’s Kamnoap commune, said police apprehended the group at 7 pm and told them to return to Vietnam when they failed to produce proper documentation to enter Cambodia.
“We didn’t arrest or detain them,” he said, adding that police allowed the group to spend one night at the commune police station because they said they had nowhere else to go.
Representatives of the Khmer Krom—ethnic Khmers living in what was once Khmer territory and is now southern Vietnam—have claimed that several of their members fled to Cambodia in recent days fearing arrest after anti-Hanoi protests in Vietnam’s Soc Trang and Can Tho provinces.
An Sam Ath said this is the first time he has seen the Khmer Krom crossing the border in such a large group, but said they were looking for work in Takeo rather than seeking refuge.
“If I allow them in, I will lose my position,” he said.
San Savang, director of the Takeo-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Friends Association, claimed that 20 Khmer Krom have fled to Takeo in recent days.
“Demonstrations [calling for greater Khmer Krom rights] are still going on in Vietnam. They are afraid of the chaotic situation in Vietnam, they are afraid of oppression,” he claimed.
Nguyen Son Thuy, counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy, declined comment.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Inge Sturkenboom said the government has previously informed her agency that the Khmer Krom are Cambodian and that they can stay in Cambodia.
“If the Khmer Krom approach the UNHCR we will see individual cases and [see] what we can do about it,” Sturkenboom said, though she added that Khmer Krom have not approached the UNHCR over the case.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that Khmer Krom can enter the country if they have travel documents or Cambodian citizenship.