Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Thailand Frees Six Cambodian Refugees Six Months After Detention At Paris Peace Agreement Training

Thai authorities checking the documents of Cambodians who joined the Paris Peace Agreement training, where seven people were detained on December 29, 2023. (Supplied)
Thai authorities checking the documents of Cambodians who joined the Paris Peace Agreement training, where seven people were detained on December 29, 2023. (Supplied)

Six refugees who were arrested during a Paris Peace Agreements (PPA) training on December 29 last year and detained at the Suan Plu Immigration Detention Center in Thailand were released from mid-June to June 25. Three of them have arrived in a third country. 

Thai authorities initially detained seven Cambodian refugees but released one of them, Sam Sokha, immediately after. She now lives in Canada.

The six, released after six months, are So Meta (Eng Malay), a Khmer Student Intelligent League Association member, and two of her relatives Eng Davan and Eng Chandy, Sam Sokha, who threw a shoe at a billboard bearing former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s image, Thorn Chantha, Ly Chhuon and Kim Thi Loi.

They were detained because they did not have legal documents such as passports, although they possessed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cards. 

In May, CamboJA News published a report regarding their health condition, having suffered from lack of food, diarrhea, weight loss and women’s issues.

But, the six refugees have now been released, said Paris Peace Agreements activist, Srun Srorn, who closely monitored the case. He felt that the case was “very different from other cases”.

Based on his observation, refugees are usually detained for only a month, but in this case, they were detained for up to six months, which was “unfair to the refugees”. 

Normally, the government “arrests” activists, who flee persecution by running to another country, in this case, Thailand, where they apply for refugee status.

“I think the first thing might be that the Cambodian government files a complaint [with the Thai government]. The Thai government follows up with the complaint so as not to damage the relationship between the Cambodian and Thai governments,” Srorn said. “That is why this detention is more special than other ordinary workers.” 

Meanwhile, So Meta told CamboJA News that after the Thai government released them on June 25, she and her relatives left for the US that night, arriving at midnight of June 26.

“We were released by the authorities and have arrived in a third country, which is the US,” she said.

“We are a little happy to be free again because the Thai authorities violated our rights, detaining us for almost six months which caused us to have health problems,” Meta shared. She added that the detention worried her family in Cambodia, which resulted in her father and brother becoming seriously ill. 

“It really affected my mental health,” she said. 

Cambodian government spokesperson Pen Bona did not respond to questions. 

Activist Srorn explained that the Cambodian refugees in Thailand had sought asylum under UNHCR and received humanitarian support from civil society organizations in Thailand. The organizations worked closely in providing support when the PPA group worked with them to intervene in the first few months.

However, Srorn was informed after a while that the detainees had stopped receiving support and faced many health problems.

“We are confused, we thought that the UN and civil society organizations in Thailand would continue to help. I didn’t think that when we transferred the work to them, they would suddenly stop helping,” he added. 

The UNHCR in Cambodia did not respond immediately to questions via email. 

Even though So Meta and her two sisters moved to the US, which is a “better place for refugees compared to Thailand”, Srorn believed they continued to face problems as their family was living a very poor life in Cambodia.

“I think that at least their freedom is better because they went to the United States, but I do not think that they are free yet because their parents are in Cambodia and their freedom was suppressed because of their family,” he said. 

Eng Seng, So Meta’s brother, expressed happiness when he received the news from his sister that she had been released from the detention center.

“Personally, I feel happy because she got to a safe place,” he said, adding that his sister might have been killed (if she stayed in Cambodia) while riding a motorcycle as people had come to threaten her several times in her rental room at night in Phnom Penh.

NGO rights group Licadho operations director Am Sam Ath told CamboJA News that many civil society officials, political party members, human rights advocates and social activists have left Cambodia for other countries fearing their own safety. 

“Refugees who seek asylum in third countries because of persecution, threats to their lives and serious violations of their rights, which prevent them from living in their country, force them to decide to find a third country through UNHCR,” he said. 

In the past, there were many cases of people being arrested in Thailand, some who were deported to Cambodia by the Thai authorities. 

“Some people have been detained by Thai authorities for crossing the border into Thailand or staying in another country illegally. In many cases they were detained in Thailand until their release before going to a third country,” he said.

Sam Ath added that ​​when many refugees leave the country, it can be a loss of human resources for the nation’s development. A nation can develop and grow fast only if it has human resources.