Cambodian asylum seekers in Thailand fear forced repatriation ahead of APEC summit — H Talk Asia

Cambodian asylum-seekers in Thailand fear they could be forcibly repatriated as Thai authorities tighten security ahead of next week’s APEC summit in Bangkok, they told H Talk Asia.

“If the Thai government supports the cause of democracy… it should help protect us, which means it protects its own country as well,” said Sao Pulleak, who once oversaw the operations of the former main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in the Banteay Meanchey Province headed .

Sao Pulleak has sought refuge in Thailand for the past four years after Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the party in 2017 and Prime Minister Hun Sen began cracking down on opponents of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

He and other asylum seekers who have fled persecution because of their pro-democracy political views are concerned that Thailand may determine they are undocumented immigrants and send them back to Cambodia, where they would face the wrath of Hun Sen.

“We do not dare to go outside at will for fear of being arrested by Thai immigration,” said Chhorn Sokhoeun, another activist seeking asylum.

Thai police recently arrested 10 refugees from Vietnam’s Khmer Krom minority – ethnic Cambodians living in South Vietnam – and they remain in detention, causing Chhorn Sokhoeun to say he was increasingly concerned for the safety of his wife and three children.

Thailand does not recognize asylum seekers or refugees because it has not ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Therefore, obtaining refugee status and carrying a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee Agency (UNHCR) identity card does not protect a person from detention or deportation by the police.

Chhorn Sokhoeun brought five dependent family members with him to Thailand when he fled France, where he has been living in exile since 2015, in 2019 after threats from authorities over his support of a conspiracy by Hun Sen’s main political rival Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia.

Chhorn Sokhoeun has found it almost impossible to support his family in Thailand because his UNHCR ID discourages employers. As a result, he was unemployed and his children had to drop out of school because he had no money to support them.

Thai authorities sometimes ask for bribes, Khun Deth, a refugee from Cambodia’s Pursat province, told RFA. He said Thai police seized about 8,000 baht (approx.

“As a refugee who is actively involved in politics, my life will not be spared if I am arrested and sent back to Cambodia,” Khun Deth said. “The Cambodian authorities could kill me by throwing me in a crocodile pond. Or if not, they might shoot me. I think the Cambodian authorities will only send me to prison as a last resort.”

Cambodia is increasingly developing into an authoritarian society with rampant nepotism and corruption, said Sao Pulleak. It is heading towards dynastic rule as Hun Sen, who has ruled the country since 1985, prepares to appoint his son Hun Manet as ruler upon his resignation.

RFA was unable to contact Katta Orn, spokeswoman for the Cambodian government’s Human Rights Committee, for comment.

Cambodian refugees should receive encouragement and support from authorities when in third countries rather than more persecution, said Dy Thehoya, program officer at the Phnom Penh-based Center for the Alliance for Labor and Human Rights.

“If we look at the law and the facts of each of their cases, they are the victims of a political system or political environment in Cambodia,” Dy Thehoya said.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Eugene Whong.