The UN refugee agency placed 20 Montagnard asylum-seekers under their protection in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district on Monday after they crossed into Cambodia from neighboring Vietnam’s Central Highlands, a human rights monitor said Tuesday.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said the 20, consisting of three families that included eight children, crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border on June 15.
They had taken refuge in the jungle around the Jarai ethnic minority Lum village in Pak Nhai commune while waiting for the arrival of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Pen Bonnar said.
Around 30 police officers were sent to search for the Montagnards over the weekend, “But they did not find them,” he added.
Earlier this month, six Montagnard asylum-seekers were brought out of the jungle in Pok Nhai commune by UNHCR staff.
Ratanakkiri provincial police Deputy Chief Chea Bunthoeun declined to comment on Tuesday.
A UNHCR representative said officials from the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and the refugee agency went to Lum village on Monday to collect the asylum-seekers.
“They are from [Vietnam’s] Gia Lai province,” the UNHCR representative said. “They’re in very good shape.”
Vietnam’s Gia Lai province was the site of massive ethnic minority protests for land rights and religious freedom in both 2001 and 2004.
The Vietnamese government deployed troops to the highlands to quell the protests and have kept the area largely off limits to independent observers and journalists.
The 20 will be flown from Ratanakkiri’s provincial capital Banlung to Phnom Penh today along with the six asylum-seekers taken into protection earlier this month, the UNHCR official said.
According to the UNHCR, there are currently 665 Montagnards housed in four sites in Phnom Penh, though eight will be leaving for Canada today.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)