The Cambodian government plans to deport some of the nearly 160 Montagnards living in the capital Phnom Penh back to Vietnam, but it is unclear how many or when, government officials told RFA’s Khmer Service.
While the Montagnards fear that they will be mistreated or killed if they are sent back, government officials say they have failed to prove that they qualify as refugees.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told RFA that the ministry has yet to make a final decision on their deportation, and they would have a month to appeal the decision.
“The results of the interviews I obtained yesterday show that many of them didn’t satisfy the requirements to be recognized as refugees,” under U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) requirements and government decrees, he told RFA.
“It will, therefore, take some time before they will be deported,” he said. “Now they have to submit additional evidence to justify their claims of mistreatment or persecution. After that we will decide whether or not to deport them.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the Montagnards told RFA that interviews on their status are currently being conducted, but that he does not know if he can win approval for refugee status.
Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar. The group of Montagnards who fled to Phnom Penh comes from the mountainous region of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kon Tum provinces in central Vietnam, which border Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces of Cambodia.
The Montagnards living in Phnom Penh are among the more than 200 who have fled their country and crossed the border into Cambodia seeking help from UNHCR, citing oppression by the Vietnamese government.
Among those, some were sent back to Vietnam by the Cambodian authorities, while 13 were recognized by the Cambodian government as legitimate refugees in early 2016. They were relocated to the Philippines by the U.N. in May.
The Montagnard who spoke to RFA said he hoped the government and the UNHCR will decide against repatriating them to Vietnam. He said they would go to any other country, but feared returning to Vietnam.
In June Vietnamese police questioned them in what appears to be a failed attempt to get them to return to their native country.
That move by the Vietnamese authorities was condemned by civil society as intimidation of the Montagnards.
Rights groups say the Montagnards, many of whom are Christian, have been victims of persecution and repression in Vietnam. The Montagnards also backed the U.S. in the Vietnam War.
Reported by Thai Tha for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.