103 Montagnards Arrive at UNHCR Camp

More than 100 Montagnard men, woman and children thought to be from Vietnam’s Central Highlands were pulled from Mondolkiri province’s jungles earlier this month and have joined the approximately 230 hill tribe asylum seekers already under UN care at a camp outside the provincial capital.

Two officials with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Wednesday the new arrivals are in good health and are being processed by UNHCR workers in Mondolkiri, where a Montagn­ard refugee situation has unfolded over the last six months.

Montagnards fled across the border to Cambodia following a crackdown by Vietnamese auth­orities on Montagnard communities in the Central Highlands.

An initial group of 137 Mont­agnards was given shelter in March by UNHCR workers near a cow shed outside Sen Monorom town. The camp has since grown into a small tent village, as more asylum seekers have trickled in from Vietnam’s neighboring Dak Lak province.

This latest group of 103 is the single largest number of Mont­agnards to arrive since the first asylum seekers were found. Another group of 56 is camped in Ratanakkiri, also under UNHCR protection.

Though the UNHCR was forced at first to play a game of cat and mouse with Cambodian authorities, who were hunting Montagnards down and deporting them to Vietnam, government officials say they are now cooperating with the UNHCR.

One UNHCR official said on Wednesday that authorities in Mondolkiri have been “very cooperative” with the UNHCR.

“Everything is going very smoothly,” the official said.

But the Montagnard influx wasn’t without complications. The resettlement to the US of 38 Montagnards in April provoked an angry response from Hanoi, which accused the US of interfering in Vietnam’s internal affairs.

Tensions have eased recently and the UNHCR is currently discussing with both Cambodia and Vietnam a plan to voluntarily return the Montagnards to the Central Highlands. A major point in this process will be Vietnam’s willingness to give the UNHCR access to Montagnard villages in the Central Highlands.

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