The UN office for refugees is Phnom Penh has requested an extension to keep open a center for Montagnard refugees, as it seeks to settle the last of a wave of asylum seekers that began in 2001.
The closure of the UNHCR center would mean an end to that program, after thousands of refugees fled Vietnam, especially between 2001 and 2004.
Many of the Montagnards, who were friendly to US forces during the war with Vietnam and said they had suffered under the Vietnamese government, have resettled in the US.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry had ordered a Jan. 1, 2011, close date for the site, but the UN has asked for a three-month extension.
A government spokesman said Cambodia was considering the request, with a decision expected next week.
Sixty-two asylum seekers who were granted refugee status remain at the site, while another 14 who were not recognized as refugees will be sent back to Vietnam.
The closure of the sight will mean an end to a program that has already moved nearly 1,000 refugees to third countries, after they complained of oppressive treatment in Vietnam and fled across the border. About 750 were sent back to Vietnam.
Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, said the agency needs more time to process those who remain.
“We hope that we will get a favorable response from the Cambodian government” to the extension request, she said.
Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, said she was surprised to hear of the site’s closure. Cambodia has an obligation under UN agreements to recognize and protect refugees, she said. “We would like the Cambodian government to provide further explanation and justification on how they took this decision,” she said.
Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the site had lasted “long enough,” adding that the government wanted it closed “to avoid more refugees” coming to Cambodia.