Six ethnic Montagnard Christians who fled Vietnam and illegally entered Cambodia to seek refugee status have arrived safely in the capital Phnom Penh, an official from a local human rights group said Monday.
Chhay Thi, a provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said the group of two women and four men fled Gia Lai province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands on July 16 and arrived in O’Yadaw district in northeastern Cambodia’s remote Ratanakiri province on July 18.
The members of the group told him that they had left Vietnam because of lack of freedom and human rights persecution, he said.
“They told us that they faced difficulties living in their hometowns,” Chhay Thi told RFA’s Khmer Service. “The Vietnamese authorities persecuted them by denying them religious freedom and prevented them from using the Internet or social media to communicate with their families abroad. These are the reasons they left their hometowns to seek refugee status.”
However, he said, it was unclear whether the United Nations had taken the Montagnards to its refugee center yet. RFA could not reach the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHRC) in Phnom Penh for comment.
Chhay Thi said the Montagnards have stopped taking refuge in Ratanakiri province for lack of food, shelter and security and because three dozen other Montagnards had been caught and deported back to Vietnam earlier this year.
Most of the nearly 200 Montagnards who have entered Cambodia illegally from Vietnam’s Central Highlands since last year have claimed that they were fleeing political and religious persecution in their home country.
Almost all of them have hidden in the forests of Ratanakiri province and depended on local villagers to help them survive and reach Phnom Penh, some 500 kilometers (311 miles) away.
But since February, the Montagnards have figured out how to get to the capital by themselves, so they no longer are hiding out in Ratanakiri province for several weeks as they previously did, Chhay Thi said.
Reported by Ratha Visal for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.