100 Montagnards Volunteer for Repatriation

Nearly 100 Montagnard asylum seekers in Ratanakkiri province have signed up for voluntary repatriation and could return to their homes in Vietnam’s Central High­lands in early March, said Nikola Mihajlovic, chief of liaison in Phnom Penh for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mihajlovic said Tuesday about a dozen more people in the Rata­nakkiri camp, where the Mon­t­agnards have been under UNHCR protection for almost a year, are seeking repatriation.

“These people all hope and dream of something, they are homesick, and they basically realize there isn’t going to be an independent [hill tribe] state,” Mihaj­lovic said.

A Vietnamese government crackdown on protests in the Cen­tral Highlands drove hundreds of Montagnards into Cam­bodia, where about 1,000 remain under UNHCR protection.

The UNHCR signed a repatriation agreement with Vietnam and Cambodia Jan 21, but that accord has come under fire from US officials concerned it could be used to force Mont­agnards back to Viet­nam, where they could face further persecution.

As part of that agreement, UNHCR teams have already visited the Central Highlands to report on the current situation. “These are going very well; the first visits were an icebreaker,” Mihajlovic said. The UNHCR plans to visit several more Central Highland provinces before the 98 now willing to return can go back.

Mihajlovic said no Mont­agnards in the UNHCR’s Mondol­kiri province camp have agreed to return, though some are thinking about it. “We are not rushing anyone,” he said. “They can always change their minds.”


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