Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Category: Migration (page 1 of 2)

An affront to human rights

An affront to human rights

(published on analysis and op-ed of the Phnom Penh Post, 1st October 2014)

Protesters gather in front of the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday

Protesters gather in front of the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday before the signing of a controversial refugee deal between the countries. Heng Chivoan
Wed, 1 October 2014

As recently as January, Australia denounced Cambodia for its poor human rights record at a United Nations human rights hearing. Now, just eight months later, Australia has turned a blind eye to this record by signing a refugee deal with Cambodia that raises serious human rights concerns.

As the world faces an unprecedented number of refugees, Australia is dodging its responsibility to provide a safe and dignified resettlement process despite its high capacity to do so. Instead, it has entered into an agreement to “offload” refugees arriving in Australia to Cambodia, a country plagued by human rights abuses. Australia will provide Cambodia an additional $35 million in aid in exchange for the deal, but it cannot be guaranteed that this money will reach those that need it most.

While both Australia and Cambodia are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the rights of refugees in both countries are regularly violated. Australia has become increasingly irresponsible regarding its treatment of refugees. Mandatory detention, offshore processing and a refusal to settle those found to be genuine refugees have demonstrated Canberra’s policy of deterrence. The deal with Cambodia fits perfectly within this policy and contradicts the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Cambodia also has a poor record regarding the treatment of refugees. In December 2009, Cambodia breached a fundamental element of the Refugee Convention, non-refoulement – a principle which requires signatories to not return or expel refugees to the persecuting state – by returning 20 Muslim Uighurs fleeing ethnic violence to China. Others who migrate here, including Khmer Krom, ethnic Khmer from South Vietnam entitled to citizenship, struggle to access their rights in practice. This demonstrates the problems of the immigration process and Cambodia’s failure to support those seeking asylum.

Aside from violations against refugees and breaches of the Refugee Convention, Cambodia is facing countless other human rights issues. Impunity is rampant, freedom of expression is threatened, minorities are discriminated against and land rights are ignored. Corruption is endemic and politically motivated attacks are common. This is compounded by the fact that 20.5 per cent of the population lives in poverty, and many others earn only fractionally more, according to Where Have All the Poor Gone?, a 2013 World Bank report. Cambodia is clearly an unacceptable place for a wealthy country to offload refugees, particularly as it cannot guarantee the rights of arriving refugees.

The “pilot program” by which Cambodia will initially accept only four to five refugees signifies that the country is aware of its limited capacity. It is not clear who will monitor this pilot program or assess whether the situation for refugees is appropriate. It is clear that if the program is to be monitored by Cambodia and/or Australia alone, it will be subject to biased assessment and lack international scrutiny.

Recent media reports suggest that refugees will be forced to relocate outside of Phnom Penh once they have mastered basic Khmer. They will receive 12 months of guaranteed assistance once relocated, but it is likely that this will be inadequate considering the trauma that many refugees have endured and the time required to find meaningful employment. This is despite the Refugee Convention stipulating that refugees have “the right to choose their place of residence and to move freely within its territory”.

While 87 per cent of the world’s refugees are already hosted by developing countries, Australia is circumventing its international obligations. Refugees arriving on Australian shores have been given a choice to either resettle in Cambodia or to remain on Nauru for a further five years. And it has been made clear that they will never resettle in Australia. This is having a devastating impact on already traumatised refugees; five refugees on Nauru have sewn their mouths closed and two have attempted suicide since receiving the news. For those who are resettled in Cambodia, the series of violations is set to continue.

Australia and Cambodia both have a duty to respect their obligations, not only under the Refugee Convention but other human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The deal will in all likelihood result in breaches of these international human rights standards and should be subject to public scrutiny. The rights and wellbeing of the refugees involved should be the prime consideration for both countries.

Chak Sopheap is the executive director of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights.

Cambodia: The Two Sides of Intra-Asian Migration Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Cambodia: The Two Sides of Intra-Asian Migration Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

 

Cambodia: The Two Sides of Intra-Asian Migration

Migration is a worldwide phenomenon from which Cambodia is no exception. After a long decade of isolation due to genocide and political conflict, this country is now integrated with regional blocs or bodieslike ASEAN and WTOand has adopted the free market system which is meant to respect the free movement of people.

Endebtedness and a lack of viable employment opportunities are commonly identified as the push factors causing many Cambodians to migrate to neighboring countries including Thailand, Malaysia, and South Korea. The pull factors such as the high demand for less skilled workers in 3D (dangerous, demanding, dirty) jobs in these countries converge with the prospect of high paid employment and a better life, and the existence of established recruitment networks. As the 2010 CARAM ASIA report on Remittances: Impact on Migrant Workers Quality of Life, states, it is estimated that between 1998 and the end of 2007 there were about 180,000 Cambodians working in Thailand, while a total of 10,532 Cambodian migrants were in Malaysia and 3,996 Cambodians had gone to South Korea. The following shows the figures as a chart:

The complex economic and political system results in both opportunities and challenges for migrants who may encounter either economic prosperity or hardship, social integration or disintegration (in terms of discrimination or racism, for example) and either experience respect for human rights or their violation.

The importance of remittances in contributing to the economies of the receiver countries has been well recognized. The burden of socio-economic development reliant on development aid has been shifted or at least reduced by the earnings contributed by poor migrant communities working hard, in some cases under harsh conditions, to send funds back hometo their struggling families and communities. According to a World Bank report, in 2007 Cambodia received approximately USD 322 million of inward remittance flows. It has been shown that remittances have tripled within 10 years and now represent more than 4.1 percent of Cambodias GDP.

Yet the positive effects of remittances from abroad should not make us lose sight of their darker downside. The following case is a good example and also illustrates the role played by intra-Asian migration and the role of blogosphere in assisting justice and the protection of migrants rights.

An investigation on the reported death of a Cambodian domestic worker in Malaysia was initiated by the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia in cooperation with the police, according to an article by the Phnom Penh Post.

The aunt of the domestic worker was informed by the labor recruitment firm APTSE & C Cambodia Resource Co Ltd that her 19-year-old niece had died from pneumonia. However, the pre-departure medical test in Cambodia in September last year had shown her to be in the very best of health.

Its now alleged that she could have been murdered following exposure on a news aggregation website, Khmerization, which published and circulated an email from an anonymous person who reported that a maid in Malaysia was being abused by her employer.

The case was picked up by human rights groups and politicians who appealed for a proper investigation. The anonymous sender of the letter wrote to Khmerization:

We came across a blog on your website (khmerization.blogspot.com) regarding Malaysia Embassy saved Cambodian maid alerted by Khmerizations article, posted on 23 March 2011. We would like to bring your attention to the recent death of a Cambodia maid where we suspect the actual cause of death is due to the constant physical and mental torture inflicted on her by her employer.

According to people in the local neighborhood, they have constantly witnessed the deceased being beaten up and abused and she had many times sought help from other maids in the neighborhood. One day before her death, she passed down a message saying that if she really were to pass away without any valid reason, would we please inform her uncle back in Cambodia.

Khmerization had also once before successfully convinced the authorities to investigate and assist in the case of another Cambodian maid who was allegedly abused by her employer in Malaysia. Apart from publishing an article about the abuse, Khmerization also circulated an email encouraging its readers towrite to embassy officials in Malaysia.

According to the 2011 report prepared jointly by CARAM Asia, CARAM Cambodia and Tenaganita on Reality Check: Rights and Legislation for Migrant Domestic Workers Across Asia, there are over 40,000 Cambodian migrant domestic workers in Malaysia of which women account for 51.7%. The report outlines some common violations experienced by domestic workers:

  • Working conditions differ from the contract signed between migrant domestic workers and their agents in Cambodia including lower wages and debt bondage not known to workers prior to departure.
  • Detention at recruitment agencies training center
  • Underage girls sent to work with falsified documentations
  • No payment of wages
  • Irregular payment (migrant domestic workers are only paid at the end of their contract)
  • Long working hours
  • On call 24 hours a day
  • Excessive duties and tasks
  • No days off
  • No privacy
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Confiscation of personal documents

This case shows the two sides of intra-Asian migration. Although remittances in some cases are essential for the survival of the migrants home economies, standards for their decent treatment in the host countries are equally important. As the Dalai Lama proclaimed in his speech to the 2008 United Nations World Conference on Human Rights, No matter what country or continent we come from we are all basically the same human being. We have the same common human needs and concerns.

Cambodia's deportations ordered by China

By Chak Sopheap, Guest Commentary to UPI Asia Online

Published on 2010 Jan 21

Niigata, Japan After decades of isolation due to genocide and political conflict, Cambodia has integrated with regional groups like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and adopted a free market system. However, the right to movement in the country is still restricted and issues related to refugees and migrants are highly politicized.

The deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in December last year reveals the implications and challenges that face Cambodia.

Although many Cambodian refugees who survived the brutal Khmer Rouge regime were resettled in other countries thanks to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which is a legally binding treaty and a milestone in international refugee law, the Cambodian government, which is a signatory to the convention, ignored it in deporting the Uighurs. It has therefore violated its legal and humanitarian responsibilities.

Ethnic tensions between the Uighurs and Chinas majority Han people in Chinas northwest province of Xinjiang resulted in nearly 200 deaths and 1,600 injured in a July riot last year. Subsequently, hundreds of Uighurs were detained and many executed for their involvement in the riots.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 43 Uighurs disappeared while 22 entered Cambodia with the hope of seeking asylum to flee persecution in China. Despite appeals from human rights activists and the international community, the Cambodian government, which previously had claimed it would cooperate with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to provide asylum, promptly deported the Uighurs the day before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Cambodia.

This clearly indicates Chinas strong political influence on the Cambodian government, which allegedly received a package of grants and loans worth approximately US$1 billion for deporting the Uighurs.

In addition, irregularities in the application of Cambodian laws were also evident in the deportation process. Two days prior to the deportation, a new decree signed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was issued making the processing of asylum cases the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Interior.

Although the government denied that the passage of this item, which was being drafted for more than six months, was not relevant to the Uighurs deportation, it seemed more than pure coincidence.

Furthermore, the deportation process was completed in a hurried manner on a late Saturday night when government officials do not work.

The government later justified its action by claiming that the deportation was based on immigration laws and that the Uighurs had illegally entered the country without valid passports or visas. If that is the case, then the government has failed to tackle the many cases of illegal migrants from Vietnam.

That the deportation of the Uighurs from Cambodia was influenced by China is evident from the remarks of its Foreign Ministry, which said at a press conference, Chinas stance is very clear. The international refugee protection system should not become a shelter where criminals stay to escape legal punishment.

If the Cambodian government stands by Chinas remarks, then why has it not deported former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is an economic adviser to the Cambodian government, despite repeated requests from the Thai government?

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and faces a minimum two-year jail term for corruption, according to the Thai government. But the Cambodian government says that Thaksins conviction is politically motivated and that the extradition treaty between the two nations allows either party to deny extradition in cases of political offenses, among others.

But Cambodia is not the only country where deportation cases are politicized. Thailand has also been criticized for abusing the refugee convention following its late December deportation of an estimated 4,000 ethnic Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos where they face persecution.

Historically, the Hmong people supported the United States during the Vietnam War when the conflict spread to Laos. After the war ended and the communists resumed power in 1975, thousands fled to neighboring Thailand.

The Thai government has repeatedly ignored accusations of alleged killings of Cambodian loggers who illegally cross the border and stray into the forests of Thailand. In addition, it has also denied the abuse of refugees from Myanmar who were turned back to sea and left to perish without food and water.

Immigration laws have also been politicized in the United States. Several of its immigration laws in the past 20 years were introduced during periodic episodes of anti-migrant hysteria and have been a major political issue during presidential election campaigns.

For example, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which applied retroactively to those convicted of deportable offenses, including some who had committed minor offences decades ago, was signed under former President Bill Clintons administration in September, shortly before elections in November that year.

Previously, immediate deportation was enacted only for offences that led to five years or more in jail. This included crimes such as murder, terrorism or threatening the president. However, the 1996 law expanded the scope of crimes meriting deportation to include even minor crimes such as shoplifting.

Moreover, the act stripped judges of nearly all discretion in determining whether permanent residents should be deported. There are limits on litigation that prevent individuals or groups from suing the government or appealing decisions by the Immigration Department or lower courts.

Under the expansion of this law together with the 2002 extradition agreement between the United States and Cambodia, signed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 200 Cambodian refugees were deported by November 2008 and roughly 2,000 are waiting to be deported.

Beyond the unconstitutional law provision, the deportation has been done without any consideration on the impact of the deportees livelihood and their families.

In a nutshell, many states have abused the rights of migrants and refugees for political benefit despite being signatories to the U.N. refugee convention.

These ongoing violations are a signal to the international community to seek a more effective mechanism and willingness from governments to respect the rights of refugees instead of misusing them for political gain.

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Niigata, Japan After decades of isolation due to genocide and political conflict, Cambodia has integrated with regional groups like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and adopted a free market system. However, the right to movement in the country is still restricted and issues related to refugees and migrants are highly politicized.The deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in December last year reveals the implications and challenges that face Cambodia.

Although many Cambodian refugees who survived the brutal Khmer Rouge regime were resettled in other countries thanks to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which is a legally binding treaty and a milestone in international refugee law, the Cambodian government, which is a signatory to the convention, ignored it in deporting the Uighurs. It has therefore violated its legal and humanitarian responsibilities.

Ethnic tensions between the Uighurs and Chinas majority Han people in Chinas northwest province of Xinjiang resulted in nearly 200 deaths and 1,600 injured in a July riot last year. Subsequently, hundreds of Uighurs were detained and many executed for their involvement in the riots.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 43 Uighurs disappeared while 22 entered Cambodia with the hope of seeking asylum to flee persecution in China. Despite appeals from human rights activists and the international community, the Cambodian government, which previously had claimed it would cooperate with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to provide asylum, promptly deported the Uighurs the day before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Cambodia.

This clearly indicates Chinas strong political influence on the Cambodian government, which allegedly received a package of grants and loans worth approximately US$1 billion for deporting the Uighurs.

In addition, irregularities in the application of Cambodian laws were also evident in the deportation process. Two days prior to the deportation, a new decree signed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was issued making the processing of asylum cases the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Interior.

Although the government denied that the passage of this item, which was being drafted for more than six months, was not relevant to the Uighurs deportation, it seemed more than pure coincidence.

Furthermore, the deportation process was completed in a hurried manner on a late Saturday night when government officials do not work.

The government later justified its action by claiming that the deportation was based on immigration laws and that the Uighurs had illegally entered the country without valid passports or visas. If that is the case, then the government has failed to tackle the many cases of illegal migrants from Vietnam.

That the deportation of the Uighurs from Cambodia was influenced by China is evident from the remarks of its Foreign Ministry, which said at a press conference, Chinas stance is very clear. The international refugee protection system should not become a shelter where criminals stay to escape legal punishment.

If the Cambodian government stands by Chinas remarks, then why has it not deported former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is an economic adviser to the Cambodian government, despite repeated requests from the Thai government?

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and faces a minimum two-year jail term for corruption, according to the Thai government. But the Cambodian government says that Thaksins conviction is politically motivated and that the extradition treaty between the two nations allows either party to deny extradition in cases of political offenses, among others.

But Cambodia is not the only country where deportation cases are politicized. Thailand has also been criticized for abusing the refugee convention following its late December deportation of an estimated 4,000 ethnic Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos where they face persecution.

Historically, the Hmong people supported the United States during the Vietnam War when the conflict spread to Laos. After the war ended and the communists resumed power in 1975, thousands fled to neighboring Thailand.

The Thai government has repeatedly ignored accusations of alleged killings of Cambodian loggers who illegally cross the border and stray into the forests of Thailand. In addition, it has also denied the abuse of refugees from Myanmar who were turned back to sea and left to perish without food and water.

Immigration laws have also been politicized in the United States. Several of its immigration laws in the past 20 years were introduced during periodic episodes of anti-migrant hysteria and have been a major political issue during presidential election campaigns.

For example, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which applied retroactively to those convicted of deportable offenses, including some who had committed minor offences decades ago, was signed under former President Bill Clintons administration in September, shortly before elections in November that year.

Previously, immediate deportation was enacted only for offences that led to five years or more in jail. This included crimes such as murder, terrorism or threatening the president. However, the 1996 law expanded the scope of crimes meriting deportation to include even minor crimes such as shoplifting.

Moreover, the act stripped judges of nearly all discretion in determining whether permanent residents should be deported. There are limits on litigation that prevent individuals or groups from suing the government or appealing decisions by the Immigration Department or lower courts.

Under the expansion of this law together with the 2002 extradition agreement between the United States and Cambodia, signed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 200 Cambodian refugees were deported by November 2008 and roughly 2,000 are waiting to be deported.

Beyond the unconstitutional law provision, the deportation has been done without any consideration on the impact of the deportees livelihood and their families.

In a nutshell, many states have abused the rights of migrants and refugees for political benefit despite being signatories to the U.N. refugee convention.

These ongoing violations are a signal to the international community to seek a more effective mechanism and willingness from governments to respect the rights of refugees instead of misusing them for political gain.

(Chak Sopheap is a graduate student of peace studies at the International University of Japan. She runs a blog, www.sopheapfocus.com, in which she shares her impressions of both Japan and her homeland, Cambodia. She was previously advocacy officer of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.)

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