Thai police arrest Khmer Krom refugees amid deportation fears

Up to 12 refugees with UN status were detained at a market, accused of illegal entry to Thailand.
By RFA Khmer
2022.10.14
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Thai police arrest Khmer Krom refugees amid deportation fears Khmer Krom refugees are taken by Thai police to an immigration detention center in Pathum Thani province, Oct. 14, 2022.
Citizen journalist

UPDATED at 6:20 p.m. EDT on 10-14-2022.

Thai immigration police on Friday arrested as many as 12 Khmer Krom refugees found working illegally in Thailand, taking them to a detention center for processing and trial for entering the country without permission, sources told RFA.

The group, including seven men and five women, were taken into custody at a vegetable market in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok, said another member of the ethnic minority group who escaped arrest because she had arrived late for work.

“I got there about five minutes late — otherwise I would also have been detained,” the woman, who only gave her name as Chanthy, said, adding that when she arrived she saw four uniformed Thai police officers put the 12 refugees into a police van and take them away.

However, an immigration officer said there were only 10 detainees – five Vietnamese nationals and five Cambodian nationals – who were arrested and charged with illegal entry, overstaying their visa or working without a permit. The officer was not permitted to speak publicly with journalists and asked not to be named.

The group are now being held by Pathum Thani immigration police. The refugee agency UNHCR is working with Thai authorities for their release, said Lim Keo Samnang, president of the Khmer Krom Refugee Association in Thailand, amid concerns they could face deportation and persecution.

The immigration officer told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service, that all the detainees have UNHCR-issued cards but were arrested because they lack travel documents and have broken Thai laws.

He said the police are stepping up security measures ahead of Thailand hosting a high-profile APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders next month.

Khmer Krom, ethnic Khmer who live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia, face widespread discrimination in Vietnam and suspicion in Cambodia, where they are often perceived not as Cambodians but as Vietnamese. Scores of Khmer Krom asylum seekers reside in Thailand.

Chanthy, the woman who narrowly escaped arrest, called on refugee assistance groups to urge Thai authorities to release all Khmer Krom detained in Thailand. “One is my own son-in-law, whose wife has a 5-month-old baby who needs a father,” she said.

A Khmer Krom refugee named Si Veth, who escaped from Vietnam to Thailand five years ago, said her father and mother were among the group arrested Friday.

“They had only wanted to work there to earn money because they are living as refugees in Thailand, where it is difficult to find a legal job,” she said.

Translated by Samean Yun for RFA Khmer. Written in English by Richard Finney. BenarNews journalist Pimuk Rakkanam in Bangkok contributed.

 This story has been updated to add sourcing from a Thai immigration official and to replace the original photo that was published in error.

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