The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has located 75 Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in the jungles of Ratanakkiri province, officials said Sunday.
In Bokeo district, UNHCR officials picked up 20 Montagnards on Thursday, 12 on Friday and 27 on Saturday, while in O’Yadaw district they collected 15 on Saturday and one on Sunday, according to Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.
He added that the group is now being looked after in the provincial capital of Banlung.
UNHCR spokeswoman Deborah Backus said the organization, which left Phnom Penh on Tuesday after receiving permission from the government, has not yet had time to interview the asylum-seekers. “It is a big number,” she said. “This time of the year is always a time when many come.”
UNHCR has received reports that 20 asylum-seekers were apprehended in the neighboring province Mondolkiri on Friday, Backus said. “There are a lot of reports of deportation and we will be investigating,” she said.
Pen Bonnar said he has received reports from villagers that the 20 were apprehended by local authorities in the province’s Koh Nhek district and then driven back to Vietnam by truck.
He said he has received a report that a female asylum-seeker died during the incident, though it was not clear how this may have happened.
Sam Sarin, Adhoc’s Mondolkiri coordinator, said he could not verify reports of the deportation.
Mondolkiri Provincial Police Chief Hem Savong said he had not heard of any Montagnards being arrested, but said officials from the Interior Ministry and the province went to the district last week to monitor border security.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also said he was unaware of any Montagnards being arrested, but said Cambodian border authorities are charged with ensuring that people do not enter the country illegally.
“Sometimes we use our immigration law if they enter the country without legal documents,” he said, adding that it is often hard to tell whether someone is a genuine asylum-seeker.