The government is awaiting a report from the UN’s refugee office in Cambodia, which has a group of Uighurs from western China under its care, a government spokesman confirmed Monday.
UNHCR has declined to comment on whether it is holding the Uighurs, from an ethnic Turkic minority, despite media reports of their arrival and reports from government officials they are under the care of refugee agency.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said Monday he has spoken to a UNHCR official who confirmed that 22 Uighurs, including three children, are now under UNHCR care in Phnom Penh.
The ministry is now waiting for recommendations from UNHCR on their final decision for the 22 “persons of concern,” Koy Kuong said, adding that the government would cooperate with the agency.
The Uighurs fled unrest in the western province of Xianjiang in July, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Monday the government had not yet received any information from UNHCR. If the government learns the Uighurs have no legal documents, they will be returned to their port of entry, Khieu Sopheak said.
However, Cheng Sophors, an investigator for the rights group Lichado, said refugees seldom have legal documents. The Cambodian government must understand that they’ve fled to Cambodia for safety, he said.
Chan Saveth, investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said Monday the government must cooperate with UNHCR under its UN obligations.
The Uighurs must be safeguarded during their stay in Cambodia, Chan Saveth said. If the group is sent back to China, they could be executed, he said.
Chinese Embassy officials could not be reached for comment.