Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Cambodia will temporarily accept up to 300 Afghan refugees

Drivers pass the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Picture taken on August 3, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Drivers pass the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Picture taken on August 3, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

The Cambodian government said it has agreed to shelter up to 300 Afghan refugees while they are being processed for third country resettlement.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong confirmed that the government agreed to accept the refugees on a temporary basis.

“I just know that the Royal Government decided [to accept them] as a humanitarian principle, I don’t have any further information,” he said.

Keo Vannthan, spokesman at the General Department of Immigration, said relevant authorities are discussing the details of housing the refugees, but declined to provide further information.

“[I] don’t know when they will arrive but Samdech [Hun Sen] said to accept refugees not exceeding 300 people,” he said. 

“We are having a meeting on that issue, please wait, we cannot answer yet.”

On Saturday evening, Fresh News, a website close to the government, posted quotes from Hun Sen saying he had agreed to temporarily host 300 Afghan refugees, though the post was later removed. The news report said that the agreement was after an international organization with an office in Cambodia, approached the government to request that it grant temporary visas to its Afghan staff and their families while their asylum claims are being processed.

The U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban takeover of Kabul has sent tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing for safety. UNHCR predicts that around half a million Afghans might seek asylum by the year’s end.  

Local civil society groups welcomed the news, saying it was an important humanitarian move.

“We have seen if those people [Afghans] remain to live there, they will continue to face a persecution following the political situation in Afghanistan,” said Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho.

He said the government appears to be showing the international community that it respects human rights by accepting refugees, though it has been frequently criticized over the deterioration of human rights and democracy domestically.

“The acceptance of refugees [is because] Cambodia wants to show internationally that it is a moral and humanitarian [government] that respects human rights,” he said.

Moeun Tola, executive director at CENTRAL, supported the temporary acceptance of refugees following the principle of humanitarianism, but noted that Cambodia is poor and cannot feed many foreign refugees.

“I think as a humanitarian principal it isn’t wrong, but we have to be cautious because as we have known in Afghanistan there is the Taliban and terrorism groups,” he said.

He said that in the meantime, the government must work closely with UN refugees to ensure they can go to a third country.

In 2014, Cambodia received tens of millions of dollars from Australia to accept refugees who had been turned away from Australia, but of the five people who agreed to the resettlement only two stayed.