Luke Hunt, Phnom Penh
Updated: November 18, 2021 03:54 AM GMT
An Afghan refugee holds a sign during a protest to highlight their status as asylum seekers in the Indonesian city of Surabaya on Nov. 11. (Photo: Juni Kriswanto/AFP)
At least 15 Afghan refugees who fled their homes following the US withdrawal and Taliban annexation of their country have been granted temporary accommodation in Cambodia while waiting for a third nation to accept them.
A senior Interior Ministry official told the government-friendly Fresh News service that all the refugees are employed by the Asia Foundation, a US-based development agency, and with their families were approved on humanitarian grounds following the fall of Kabul in August.
“The government has prepared temporary accommodation for the refugees before they are granted asylum by a third country,” the official was quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has established a working group to resolve accommodation issues. A government statement said the 13-member working group would be responsible for coordinating the authorization of Afghan people who are Asia Foundation staff and their families to enter and stay temporarily in Cambodia.
“It is also commissioned to work with relevant parties on the process of transportation, health measures implementation against Covid-19, and selection of proper locations for accommodation,’’ the official state-run news agency Agence Kampuchea Press said.
Their acceptance followed an agreement in principle with the Asia Foundation struck three months ago that would enable 300 Afghan asylum seekers to transit through Cambodia and an appeal from United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
The UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee the war-torn country by the end of this year
However, bringing them here was hampered by international travel bans imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. Those bans were recently lifted in Cambodia after a swift and successful rollout of its vaccination program and a sharp fall in daily caseloads.
The UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee the war-torn country by the end of this year on top of the 2.2 million Afghan refugees who are already living in neighboring countries.
A further 3.5 million Afghans are classified as internally displaced after fleeing their homes amid the Taliban advance, which was achieved as the US completed its withdrawal, marking the end of a 20-year war that began after the 2001 terrorist strikes on New York and Washington.
The Taliban attempted to stem the flow by limiting flights out of Kabul and banning people from leaving, outraging Western governments and human rights groups.
Cambodia has often faced strong criticism from abroad over its handling of human rights and has been used as a transit point for people smugglers. But Phnom Penh was also widely praised when announcing plans to accept 300 Afghan refugees.
In 2014, Cambodia agreed to accept refugees on a voluntary basis from Nauru and Papua New Guinea who had initially sought asylum in Australia but were refused entry because they attempted to land by boat. Just seven came to Cambodia.
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