Khmer Krom: Activist Confident on Political Asylum Prospects
As the June 18  deadline for his asylum application draws near, Buddhist monk and human rights activist Tim Sakhorn says he is confident the United States government will grant him political asylum and allow him to settle in America.
Tim Sakhorn, an advocate for the rights of southern Vietnam's ethnic Khmer minority, popularly known as Khmer Krom, fled from Cambodia in April and has been living at an undisclosed location in Bangkok awaiting the US government's decision, expected next week.
"I am now waiting for an official confirmation from [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees]," Tim Sakhorn said by phone from Bangkok, adding that he is going to have a meeting with officials from the US Embassy in Bangkok soon.
"I strongly believe that I deserve asylum status since the threats from the Vietnamese authorities are real."
The 41-year-old monk, who was arrested and defrocked in Cambodia in June 2007 before being deported and jailed for a year in Vietnam on charges of undermining its national unity, fled to Thailand when Vietnamese authorities allowed him to enter Cambodia on April 4 to visit family in his native Takeo province.
"It is difficult for Khmer Krom to stay in this country: The Thai authorities will arrest as soon as they find us," Tim Sakhorn said.
"It is a bit easier for monks since they can rely on pagodas for day-to-day support, but regular Khmer Krom have a hard time even finding shelter or paying for food. Khmer Krom will face serious problems if the UN fails to recognise our rights to refuge," Tim Sakhorn said.
The Bangkok office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has granted temporary refugee status to five Khmer Krom monks, allowing them to stay in Thailand pending the approval of an asylum bid to other countries.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, said the UNHCR is expected to release the official verdict on Tim Sakhorn's case on Thursday, while the refugee status of the other five Khmer monks will be finalised by early July .
He said Thailand is now a temporary home for more than 200 Khmer Krom currently applying for residence in third countries.
Since early 2009, the UNHCR has helped four Khmer Krom refugees obtain political asylum in the United States, while an additional 71 have received temporary refugee status and are waiting to move on to another country.
Thach Setha, president of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, said the rapid increase in the number of Khmer Krom refugees in Thailand was due to the series of protests against rights abuses committed by the Vietnamese authorities in 2007 and 2008.
"Even after having fled to Cambodia, [the Khmer Krom] are not safe. The Vietnamese authorities continue to track them down here. This is why they must seek asylum in another country," he said.
In a report on the Khmer Krom issued in January, Human Rights Watch recorded the "severe and often shrouded" methods used by the Vietnamese government to stifle freedom of religion and other basic rights of the Khmer minority in the Mekong Delta.
The US Embassy in Bangkok could not be reached for comment Thursday [11 Jun 2009].