Officials ended their first week of Montagnard resettlements Thursday, with 200 of the more than 900 refugees leaving Cambodia for the US, said Mohammad Alnassery, officer in charge with the International Organization for Migration.
“So far it is a very smooth operation. There were no big problems,” Alnassery said Thursday.
He said the Montagnards—almost all of whom had never been out of Vietnam’s Central Highlands before fleeing their villages last year—are being escorted on their flight to the US “to reduce any problems that might occur due to their inexperience with flying.” The resettlement is expected to resume next week and be completed by mid-July.
More than 1,000 Montagnards crossed into Cambodia beginning early last year, following a crackdown on demonstrations in the Central Highlands.
The influx of Montagnards strained relations between Cambodia and Vietnam, which demanded their return. Earlier this year, a resettlement deal was struck, allowing those remaining under UN protection to go to the US. At the same time, the border between Cambodia and Vietnam was ordered closed to any more asylum seekers.
One young Montagnard refugee said Wednesday she knew she would probably never see the Central Highlands again, despite leaving most of her family behind. “I left Vietnam April 27, 2001. I will never forget my homeland and I will never forget my anger against the Vietnamese,” she said.