In the shadow of World Refugee Day (June 20), I would like to take the opportunity to remember the 20 ethnic Uighurs forcibly returned to China by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) in December 2009, despite Cambodia’s signature to the 1951 Convention on Refugees.
There is no information on the whereabouts of the 20 returned individuals who had come to Cambodia seeking refuge following an outbreak of ethnic riots in July 2009. The group had described clearly to the Cambodian authorities the persecution they were escaping in China, and that they feared for the safety of their families, yet they were still repatriated in contravention of the Convention on Refugees. Neither the United Nations nor their families have any record of where the group ended up. As reported by Human Rights Watch in January 2010, there has been no notification of legal charges against the group and no guarantees given by the Chinese government that the group are safe from persecution.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights is following the plight of the ethnic Rohingya (another predominantly Muslim minority), fleeing persecution from the Myanmar government. As reported in The Phnom Penh Post on June 21, the group have been in Cambodia since January and have been given no indication by the RGC of their refugee status or right to asylum; they now face food shortages. I strongly urge the RGC to adhere to their obligations under the Convention on Refugees, in ensuring that the group is given access to public assistance, food and healthcare.
With the passing of World Refugee Day, it is important to remind the RGC that we have not forgotten the Uighurs. As a former refugee myself, having spent 4 years in a Thai refugee camp, I – like the countless other Cambodians who have sought refuge in foreign countries in recent decades – understand the plight of these people and would like to take this opportunity to remember all refugees and all those who have worked hard to help them. Moreover, I strongly urge the RGC to ensure that the Rohingyas are treated with the dignity and respect that was denied to the Uighurs.
Ou Virak, President
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights