Two dozen ethnic Montagnard Christians who fled Vietnam earlier this year to seek refuge in Cambodia from alleged persecution have volunteered to return home, frustrated with long waits and the dim prospects of being granted asylum, a police official and rights activist in northeastern Cambodia said Wednesday.
Immigration officers from the Cambodian Ministry of Interior escorted the 24 Montagnards as they were transported in four vans from Phnom Penh to remote Ratanakiri province, where they had crossed the border from Vietnam, provincial deputy police chief Chea Bunthoeun told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The group reached the province around 6 p.m. and will cross the border back into Vietnam on Thursday, he said.
“They volunteered to return,” he said, adding that he did not know the identities of the members of the group. “They will sleep here one night, and tomorrow morning we will send them back through an international border checkpoint.”
Chhay Thi, provincial coordinator for the domestic rights group Adhoc who is monitoring the repatriation of the group, told RFA that he is concerned about the fate of the Montagnards.
The Montagnards decided to return to Vietnam in disappointment with the results of their asylum requests, because Cambodian immigration officials always regard them as illegal refugees, he said.
“More Montagnards will decide to go back because they have waited for about one year, and they still haven’t gotten any decisions regarding their requests for refugee status and to settle in a third country,” he said. “These failures are forcing them to return home.”
Chhay Thi said he did not have a chance to interview the Montagnards yet because of tight security.
At present, there are about 180 Montagnards still in Cambodia, only 13 of whom have been granted refugee status, he said.
In July, a dozen other Montagnards who sought refugee status in Cambodia willingly returned to their homes in Vietnam after Hanoi gave assurances it would not punish or discriminate against them.
About 200 Montagnards have entered Cambodia illegally from Vietnam’s Central Highlands since late last year, claiming they are fleeing political and religious persecution in their home country.
Scores of Montagnards have emerged from their jungle hideouts in Ratanakiri province with the assurance of protection from the United Nation refugee agency (UNHCR), which is helping them to gain asylum, but others have been caught by local authorities and deported back to Vietnam.
Reported by Ratha Visal and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.