A rights group has asked the Cambodian government to stop harassing Christian Montagnards from Vietnam who are seeking refugee status in the country following the arrest of a family of five Montagnards in a northeastern province.
Cambodian authorities arrested the family, including two children and an infant, on Sunday after police and soldiers raided the forest in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province where they had been hiding for two weeks.
The local rights group Adhoc criticized the government for arresting the family members, who were handcuffed and transported to unknown locations, because they came to Cambodia to avoid persecution in Vietnam.
“Cambodia is a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention,” the statement issued Sunday said. “The government must respect refugees and must report the statuses of refugees to the U.N. The government cannot deport them and hide all information.”
Deporting the Montagnards—indigenous people from Vietnam’s Central Highlands— before allowing them to apply for asylum would violate the 1951 Refugee Convention, rights groups have said.
Cambodia signed the convention in 1992, agreeing to allow all asylum seekers access to asylum procedures.
But provincial authorities and Interior Ministry officials view the Montagnards as illegal immigrants and have threatened them with arrest and deportation.
Adhoc also pointed out that a total of 45 Montagnards had fled to Cambodia from Vietnam since early last December, seeking political asylum.
But Ratanakiri province authorities tried to arrest 13 Montagnards before they permitted the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take them to the capital Phnom Penh, Adhoc said.
“Adhoc requests the government to stop persecutions against the Montagnards immediately,” the statement said. “The government must cooperate with the U.N in Phnom Penh to ensure that the rights of the Montagnards are not violated and to prove that the government is adhering to its obligation as a signatory to what it has signed [the Refugee Convention].”
Taken from a cottage
A local resident who witnessed the arrest of the family told RFA’s Khmer Service that local authorities in police and military uniforms took them from a cottage in O’Yadaw district and drove them away.
Four other Montagnards who were in hiding with the family fled the scene, witnesses said.
Local authorities have refused to comment on the arrests, although one local police officer, who refused to be named, said the family had not yet been deported to Vietnam.
Other sources who declined to be named said the five people are being held in the province.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he was looking for the location where the five are being held.
Dozens of Montagnards have fled to Cambodia in recent months, citing religious and political persecution in Vietnam.
They have taken refuge in the jungles of Ratanakiri province, amid fears they could be forcibly repatriated.
Some remain in hiding while 16 others have been allowed to apply for asylum in Phnom Penh.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.