Rohingya Could Get Aid

Aid workers look into the case of 32 ethnic Rohingya asylum-seekers in Cambodia.

Rohingya migrants board a prison bus in Ranong, Thailand before being transported to immigration, Jan. 31, 2009.

PHNOM PENH—A group of 32 ethnic minority Rohingya who fled to Cambodia from Burma are in a safe shelter and could soon get food and other aid, according to an official from a humanitarian group here.

Legal officer Lian Yong of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Cambodia said Tuesday that her organization would meet with the group to determine how to help.

“JRS, as with all asylum-seekers and refugees, will assist [the group] after we have made an assessment of their situation, and we will provide legal and social assistance.”

The Rohingya, based in western Burma’s northern Rakhine state, face systematic harassment and discrimination at home, rights groups say.

Burma’s military government, which calls the country Myanmar, doesn't recognize them as citizens, and hundreds of thousands have fled across the border to Bangladesh over the years.

The 32 Rohingya, who first traveled to Cambodia in January, were living in the Russei Keo district of Phnom Penh while seeking political asylum from the government.

Lian Yong denied a report by the local Kaladan Press June 7 that said the Rohingya were facing a food shortage after running out of supplies and money.

“The Rohingya and JRS have asked [Kaladan Press] to take down [the news] as it includes a lot of incorrect information and they made up a lot of what they said. It is completely false,” she said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kuy Kuong confirmed that the government had interviewed the asylum-seekers and was determining whether they qualify as refugees.

'They want to stay'

“We have interviewed them … They said that they are afraid of being persecuted and facing discrimination because of their ethnic identity. They came to seek asylum here,” Kuong said.

“They want to stay in Cambodia.”

Kuong said he believes there are more Rohingya in Cambodia seeking refugee status, but he declined to elaborate.

Another NGO official who asked not to be named said this group wasn't seeking asylum in a third country, but they haven't decided whether to pursue that option if they are refused residence in Cambodia.

Founder of Cambodia-based human rights organization LICADHO Kek Galabru said Cambodia is obligated by United Nations conventions to protect the Rohingya.

She added that if the government repatriates the group, they will face persecution in Burma.

Facing discrimination

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


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