O’Yadaw district, Ratanakkiri province – Twenty-one Montagnard asylum seekers were placed under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees after emerging from their forest hiding places in Pok Nhai commune, O’Yadaw district on Friday.
The 14 men and seven women from Vietnam’s Gia Lai province appeared dishevelled but healthy as they either walked or ran out of their forest hiding places clutching plastic bags containing their belongings in two locations near the Jarai village of Pok Por.
Chung Ravuth, UNHCR protection and field assistant, said the number of asylum seekers collected on Friday and transported to the provincial capital Banlung was exactly as stated by local sources.
Local human rights group Adhoc has received reports from local sources that as many as 90 Montagnard asylum seekers are hiding in at least two districts in the province.
Though torrential rainstorms have battered Ratanakkiri for several days causing mayhem on the earth road stretching from Banlung to areas near the Vietnamese border where the asylum seekers have fled, a respite in the deluge on Friday afternoon would make a second operation possible today, Chung Ravuth said.
“If it stay like this we are planning to go tomorrow to another place,” he said, The drivers of several large trucks stranded in deep mud on the road reported on Friday that they had spent four nights sleeping in their cabs waiting for either the weather to change or for a larger vehicle to tow their stricken vehicles.
On 35-year-old asylum seeker accompanied by his 16-year-old son said after presenting himself to the UNHCR that he had fled to Cambodia from Vietnam’s Central Highlands two weeks ago.
Complaining of repression by Vietnamese authorities and the loss of ancestral lands, the man said he did not know where he wanted to go next.
“We don’t know where we are going, we just ran away. Living [in Vietnam] is very difficult and there is much suffering,” he said.
A 29-year-old female asylum seeker also said she had no idea what would happen next.
“In Vietnam there is no land to farm and we have nothing to eat,” she said.
“We just run to Cambodia because we want to live with happiness,” she added.
Ratanakkiri Second Deputy Governor Muong Poy said on Friday that he had expected more asylum seekers to emerge from the O’Yadaw district “because there is a network over there. So they are still coming.”
Muong Poy said earlier this week that local Jarai minority members in Ratanakkiri were responsible for assisting the asylum seekers, predominately Jarai, who were entering the country. He said, however, that despite a recent police deployment to Jarai villages, no punitive action would be taken against villagers suspected of assisting the Montagnards.
However, the intensified police operations that have been mounted since the emergence last month of 198 asylum seekers from Ratanakkiri’s forests, have begun to impact on the province’s tourist industry particularly police officers being required to escort foreign tourist visiting Jarai villages.
Ratanakkiri Deputy Provincial Police Chief Hor Ang confirmed on Friday that police had followed tourists travelling in the area, but claimed it was not a provincial order and promised it would not happen again.
“I am trying to fix this to not allow it happen again. It is a misunderstanding,” said Hor Ang adding the action was taken after some tourists lost money earlier this week.
“The province issued an order to take care of the tourists safety. That’s why they followed the tourists. [The police officers] misunderstood the order to protect the tourist’s safety in area, but not to follow them.”
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