The U.N. refugee agency has condemned Thailand's deportation of three Cambodian political activists back to their home country, describing it as part of a “trend” of returning Cambodian refugees across the border where they face the risk of persecution.
Thailand expelling the three activists contravened the protections given to refugees under humanitarian law, the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement on Monday.
“We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution,” the statement quoted as saying Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.
The U.N. statement followed on the deportation from Thailand of the third Cambodian activist on Saturday, even though the agency had informed Thai authorities of her refugee status. Details of the activist's identity were not immediately shared.
Cambodia has a history of legally harassing critics of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for 36 years.
Earlier this month, Thailand deported to Cambodia Voeun Veasna and Voeung Samnang, who were both wanted in their home country for charges related to online postings critical of the government. Both activists were members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the popular opposition party that was ordered dissolved by Cambodia’s high court in 2017, according to Human Rights Watch.
Cambodian and Thai authorities have claimed they were following normal legal and border control procedures.
A spokesman for Cambodia’s National Police, Gen. Chhay Kim Khoeun, told The Associated Press all three nationals were now in pre-trial detention, after being expelled by the Thai authorities.
A spokesman for Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, Police Major Gen. Achayon Kraithong, said he could not confirm the U.N.'s version of events and that it was his agency’s duty to deport people who enter the country illegally.
Human Rights Watch, however, has accused Thai and Cambodian authorities of reaching a de factor “fugitive arrangement”, where each country returns political dissidents wanted by their home government.
“Dozens of Thai ‘Red Shirt’ political activists are still believed to be in hiding in Cambodia following the 2014 coup in Thailand, while dozens of Cambodian activists have sought refuge in Thailand following the Cambodian government’s crackdown on the political opposition," HRW said in a statement earlier this month.