75 Montagnards Handed Over to Government

Seventy-five Montagnard asylum-seekers have been turned over to the government after the UN rejected their refugee applications, prompting fears by rights groups that they could be forcibly returned to Vietnam.

On Monday, the 75 were gathered together in one of four sites set up by the UN High Commis­sioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh, after the UN agency provided the government with a list Friday identifying each of them as rejected asylum-seekers.

“They have not been recognized as refugees,” a UNHCR official said Wednesday. “The UNHCR has no responsibility on this group, and it is up to the Cam­bo­dian government to decide what to do with them next.”

Police photographed and questioned the Montagnards. The UNHCR official said it was their right to do so because the 75 people are on Cambodian territory.

The official said all 75 had ex­hausted their appeals.

Denise Coghlan of Jesuit Refu­gee Services, which manages the four camps where about 700 Mon­tagnard asylum-seekers are being  housed, said she had believed that the UNHCR was still responsible for the 75. “We’re very concerned anyone would be forcibly returned to Viet­nam,” she said.

A Human Rights Watch representative expressed strong concern about refugees being re­turn­ed to Viet­nam given on­going re­ports of harsh treatment of Mon­tag­nards in the Central Highlands.

“We are extremely concerned about the possibility of any Mon­tagnard asylum-seeker being forcibly repatriated to Vietnam at this time,” the representative said, noting the UN has been unable to monitor the status of any of those who have re­turned to Vietnam.

“UNHCR should insist on full and unhindered access to the Cen­tral Highlands before and after the return process, in order to assure the returnees’ security,” the representative added.

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