Originally Published by Phnom Penh Post, 23 December 2009
A SENIOR government official says the UN’s refugee agency did not act quickly enough to process the asylum claims of 20 ethnic Uighurs deported by Cambodian authorities on Saturday night, an act that has prompted a storm of international condemnation.
Speaking to reporters prior to a ceremony for the signing of aid agreements with visiting Chinese officials on Monday, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith accused the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of using the Uighurs as political pawns.
“UNHCR is the laziest office in Cambodia,” he said. “If they [granted refugee status] within a few days, those people would have been moved to other places, but they were slow and kept them for about a month.”
He also accused the agency of leaking the story to the press in order to “beat a drum” against the government, forcing authorities into opening investigations into the asylum seekers.
The Uighurs, part of a group of 22 who had applied for refugee status through UNHCR, were detained by Cambodian police on Friday and forcibly deported to China the following night. Two Uighurs remain on the run.
When contacted on Tuesday, Kitty McKinsey, Asia spokeswoman for UNHCR, declined to comment on Khieu Kanharith’s comments.Continue Reading →