Sixteen Montagnards were handed over to Vietnamese authorities on Friday even though they had initially refused to return out of fears of persecution. “All 16 returned to their homeland at about 9 a.m.,” said deputy Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun on Friday.
The group—who were told they had no choice but to leave Phnom Penh after their asylum appeals were rejected—were repatriated with the assistance of UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency.
UNHCR did not respond to requests for comment. The Montagnards claim to have escaped persecution in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where they say they are targeted for reasons that include practicing a form of Christianity not sanctioned by Hanoi.
Recent returnees have said they were subjected to widespread surveillance after being repatriated, with two saying they were forced to make confessions on state television.
The latest repatriations leave 49 Montagnards in Phnom Penh waiting for their cases to be heard at the Court of Appeal after their asylum applications were denied. Only three Montagnards have received asylum this year.