Khmer Kampuchea Krom in Limbo
65 ethnic Khmer Kampuchea Krom live illegally in Thailand. They
Sabtu, 06 Apr 2013 17:22 WIB
They’re ethnic Khmers who live or have roots in Vietnam but they fled to avoid discrimination.
Thach Toeung wipes away his tears as he tells me his life story.
“I was not chosen by the UN Refugee Body to become a legal refugee here. We have to live here without security, illegally. We are human beings but we live like rats, we’re worse than dogs here. When dogs are sick, the owners bring them to animal health care centres. But if we fall sick, we can’t go to hospital. We have to hide because we’re afraid the police will arrest us.”
Thach Toeung is the Vice President of the Kampuchea Krom Association in Thailand.
He has been living in a hideout for the past three years.
“It’s difficult for us to find a job. Thai businessmen won’t hire us because we’re illegal. If they hire us, then the police could arrest us. We don’t have any permits or refugee cards from the UN, we are a target. We can only go out at night, to the market to beg for discarded vegetables or food to eat. If we’re lucky, we get paid to carry stuff. We’re now working secretly in the fields.”
According to the Vietnamese government there are more than 1 million ethnic Khmer Krom living in the territory of Kampuchea Krom.
More than 60 years ago, Cambodia ceded the territory to Vietnam.
Many human rights NGOs say this has caused great suffering to the ethnic Khmer Krom who now face constant discrimination and opression.
The Khmer Krom were forced to adopt Vietnamese family names and speak Vietnamese.
Thach Toeung was accused of being a rebel for opposing the national education program.
“The practice of freedom of expression and religion is banned. We can’t learn the Khmer language. They issued a directive banning the study of the Khmer language in public schools. They say we have to go to a Buddhist temple to learn the language because in state schools the Vietnamese curriculum is already full. I’m Khmer, but why can’t I study my native language?”
He and many others fled to Thailand in search of refugee status or asylum in a third country.
Soeung Thai Tan can’t understand why the UN Refugee Body refused his appeal.
“The UN said that I’m not a politician, not a fighter for freedom of expression or religion. They accused me of escaping from Vietnam illegally. I don’t understand what they said. They told me that I should return to Vietnam. Oh no! I will be arrested there!”
The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Union in Cambodia says they should return to their homeland.
Tang Sarah is the Union’s President.
“They can live in Cambodia. They shouldn’t hide and live in Thailand where they face many challenges. They should coordinate with our organisation. We can help them through the Cambodian government.”
Many of the Kampuchea Krom in Thailand would love to return to Cambodia.
But they’re afraid, says Thach Toeung.
“If we say that the Vietnamese government is cruel, they can arrest us at any time, like they did to our friends. Many of them were refused legal status by the UN and when they got to the Kampuchea Krom territory in Vietnam, they were arrested and put in jail. We can’t return and we don’t believe either the Vietnamese or Cambodian authorities.”
The Cambodian government says they welcome the Kampuchea Krom.
But under one condition says Khiev Sopheak, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.
“They’re a rebel group according to the Vietnamese government. They want to separate from the government, from the state. I think it’s a legal issue with them. However, we never arrest or deport them to Vietnam. We have always considered them as Cambodians, except when they’re accused of being members of an illegal group.”
The Kampucha Krom in Thailand are calling for international human rights groups to help them.
“We’re considered illegal immigrants. Living in Thailand is not comfortable. I want the media to tell the Kampuchea Krom around the world about our struggle. We face so many challanges and we can be arrested or deported at any time.”
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