17 Montagnard Asylum Seekers Return to Vietnam

Seventeen Montagnard asylum seekers who had been living in Phnom Penh arrived back in Vietnam on Tuesday accompanied by the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.N. representative said.

“While each would have had his/her own reasons, all seemed to feel their prospects were better back home,” Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said via email.

Following the voluntary return of 24 Montagnards to Vietnam last month, a number of human rights groups criticized the U.N. for its involvement in the repatriation process. According to the U.N., more than 200 Montagnard asylum seekers have made their way to Phnom Penh over the past year.

Of those, the government has granted refugee status to only 13, and has placed a January 10 deadline for the UNHCR to find a third country where they can resettle.

The Interior Ministry has refused to process further refugee applications, and said those not granted asylum have until February 6 to return to Vietnam or be forcibly deported. Ms. Lee said U.N. officials would be allowed to monitor the Montagnards upon their return to Vietnam.

“Earlier this year, the Government of Viet Nam committed to UNHCR that returning individuals would not be punished for seeking asylum abroad and that UNHCR could visit them at their homes,” she said.

Officials from the Interior Ministry could not be reached.

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