Cambodian immigration officials will repatriate 26 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam this weekend to comply with a request by the United Nations refugee agency, the head of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department said Tuesday.
Tan Sovichea said that the Montagnards who failed to obtain refugee status from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) are voluntarily returning to their homeland.
“The government isn’t deporting them because they have volunteered to return with the UNHCR’s cooperation,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Before sending the Montagnards back to Vietnam, Tan Sovichea said immigration authorities took a husband and his wife to two separate facilities to prevent them from escaping to Thailand where many Montagnards have sought refuge.
“We aren’t stopping them, but we just took them to separate locations so they cannot contact each other because they are among the group of Montagnards who have volunteered to be repatriated to Vietnam,” he said.
About 91 Montagnards are living temporary residencies in the capital Phnom Penh, while 50 others have already escaped to Thailand.
Vivian Tan, senior regional public information officer at the UNHCR, told RFA via email that some asylum seekers have been detained, though the refugee agency does not support the move. She said the UNHCR is working with the Cambodian government for their release.
Tan also said she has yet to learn about the exact number of Montagnards who will be repatriated to Vietnam.
A Montagnard representative based in Thailand said the 26 Montagnards are not happy about returning to Vietnam and are concerned that the Vietnamese government will imprison them or restrict their religious, freedom and political rights.
Dozens of Montagnard asylum seekers, many of whom are Christian, have fled Cambodia to Thailand in recent weeks amid fears of forced repatriation to Vietnam, where they complain of discrimination and persecution at the hands of local authorities, according to U.S.-based rights group Montagnards Assistance Project.
Thailand is not a signatory to the U.N.’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and, as in Cambodia, the Montagnards have no rights regardless of their registration with the UNHCR.
Reported by Tha Thai for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English in English by Roseanne Gerin.