Six New Montagnards Seeking Refugee Status Arrive in Cambodia

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cambodia-montagnard-family-arrested-feb1-2014.jpg An undated photo of the Montagnard family arrested in northeastern Cambodia's Ratanakiri province on Feb. 1, 2015.
(Photo courtesy of Adhoc)

A new group of six Montagnards from Vietnam have arrived in northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province to seek political refuge, as a United Nations team tries to locate and assist other refugees in hiding, a villager who provided shelter to the Montagnards said.

The villager, who declined to be identified, said the group arrived between Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 and are at a location between the border of Ratanakiri and eastern Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province.

“They are in hiding because they are afraid of deportation,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “They are searching for a thick jungle to hide in.”

The new arrivals bring the total number of Montagnards—Christian indigenous people from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—in hiding in Cambodia to 36, local rights group Adhoc said.

A U.N team had arrived in the province on Monday to seek cooperation with local authorities to retrieve the Montagnards, who fear that Cambodian authorities will deport them back to Vietnam where they face persecution.

But local police blocked the team from traveling into Ratanakiri, said Wan-Hea Lee, the U.N.’s office of the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR) representative in Cambodia.

“The provincial governor has been unresponsive to all our efforts to contact him,” she said by email. “OHCHR reiterates its concern for the well-being of those persons reportedly seeking asylum and calls on the authorities at all levels to cooperate in bringing them to safety and to the asylum procedure, with or without the involvement of the United Nations.”

Ratanakiri province spokesman Moeng Sinath confirmed that the U.N. had arrived, but said the team had not yet contacted local authorities. He also said he had no information about the newly arrived Montagnards.

“We have not received any information yet, but I saw U.N. vehicles, although they haven’t visited the provincial headquarters yet,” he said.

‘Accept them as refugees’

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator of Adhoc, said his group had received information about the arrival of the latest group of Montagnards and that a group of five refugees had made a video about their plight, which Adhoc forwarded to the U.N.

“They urged the U.N. and the government to accept them as refugees,” he said.

Another group of nine Montagnards had been spotted on Feb. 10 after crossing the border from Vietnam’s Gia Lai province to seek refugee status in Cambodia.

Dozens of Montagnards have fled to Cambodia in recent months, citing religious and political persecution in Vietnam. But Cambodian authorities have often sought to send them back across the border.

In early February, Cambodian authorities deported a family of five Montagnards to Vietnam’s Central Highlands after they were discovered hiding in Ratanakiri.

The Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards, or the Degar, who suffer extreme persecution, according to rights groups.

Early last decade, thousands in the region staged violent protests against religious controls and the confiscation of their ancestral lands, prompting a brutal crackdown by Vietnamese security forces.

As a result of the crackdown, authorities charged hundreds of Montagnards with national security crimes.

Representatives of the minority group say the Montagnards only want indigenous land rights and basic human rights in Vietnam, despite attempts by Hanoi to link them to overseas separatist groups.

Reported by Ratha Visal for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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