Rohingya Seek Cambodian Asylum

Members of a Muslim ethnic minority from Burma appeal to Phnom Penh.
2010-06-21
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Rohingya asylum-seekers aboard a Thai Navy vessel, December 2008.
Rohingya asylum-seekers aboard a Thai Navy vessel, December 2008.
Photo courtesy of Thai Navy.

PHNOM PENH—Cambodia is weighing asylum bids from a group of 32 ethnic minority Muslims who fled from Burma, according to a United Nations refugee official.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country director advisor Christina Planas said Monday the Rohingya had been questioned by the Cambodian government in an interview arranged by her agency.

She added that the UNHCR would provide assistance as needed while the government makes its decision.

“[The Rohingya] have been interviewed by the government of Cambodia with the assistance of the UNHCR. The government is taking responsibility,” Planas said.

But Ministry of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Monday that he was unaware that the Rohingya, whom Burma's military government doesn't recognize as Burmese nationals, had requested Cambodian asylum, adding that the government would investigate the matter.

“Normally the government will cooperate with the UNHCR to determine whether to give them refugee status, but it is the Cambodian government who will give the final decision,” he said.

Meanwhile the group of Rohingya is running out of food and supplies, the local Kaladan News reported June 7.

It quoted a Rohingya named Mohamad Tayub as saying that members of the group could starve.

All 32 of the Rohingya have been living in the Russei Keo district of Cambodia capital Phnom Penh since traveling to the country in January.

Facing discrimination

Amnesty International says the military regime in Burma, which the junta calls Myanmar, is violating the human rights of the Rohingya, who live in the northern Rakhine state of western Burma.

Authorities discriminate against the group, Amnesty said, by refusing to give its members Burmese citizenship.

The Rohingya drew global attention last year when the Thai military was accused of towing the boats of as many as 1,000 asylum-seekers out to sea and leaving them to drift at the mercy of the currents without adequate food and water.

The Rohingya themselves say they are Muslim descendants of Persian, Turkish, Bengali, and Pathan traders, who migrated to Burma as early as the 7th century A.D. But their ethnic identity isn't widely recognized.

Rights groups say the Rohingya are particularly vulnerable to human traffickers, and their case is now being taken up by the Bali Process, a human-smuggling summit involving more than 40 regional nations.

Some 200,000 Rohingya, ethnic Muslims who live in fear of arrest and deportation and lack access to the services provided at international refugee camps, have fled to Bangladesh from Burma.

Bangladesh does recognize as refugees some 28,000 Rohingya who live in two official camps run by the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government.

Original reporting by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Translated by Samean Yun and Vuthy Huot. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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