93 Montagnards To Be Escorted Back to VN

Ninety-three Montagnards who have not been granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are scheduled to be escorted by the government back to Vietnam this morning, a UNHCR official said Tuesday.

Representatives of the UN agen­cy will not accompany the group to the border as their claims have been rejected and they are no longer under UNHCR pro­tec­tion, said Inna Gladkova, UNHCR associate protection officer.

“These people underwent a thorough process,” she said. “All of them exercised their right to ap­peal…. It’s the prerogative of the government to return or not re­turn them.”

The US Embassy voiced concern about the operation Tuesday.

“The United States is concerned that there is no international monitoring in place in Vietnam to en­sure that their rights will be protec­ted on their return,” a US Em­bas­sy spokesman said.

Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said she be­lieved some of the group had le­gi­t­i­mate cases for refugee status.

“I feel extreme sadness at the re­fugees who are crying at this de­cision,” Coghlan said, adding: “In my view some of them had fair claims,” to refugee status.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said it was likely that the group missed their families and hometowns.

“The UNHCR considers they are not political refugees,” he ad­ded.

An official with US-based Human Rights Watch said it is not yet safe for any Montagnards to re­turn to the restive Central Highlands, ad­ding that the NGO is continuing to receive credible re­ports of rights abuses of Montagnards in the Central Highlands, and of vol­un­tary returnees being mistreated.

“No one should go back. I know these people are very scared,” the Human Rights Watch official said.

One Montagnard inside a UNHCR facility said the UN agency informed him Tuesday that he was to be es­corted to Vietnam at 6 am to­day.

“Many people in this site were crying,” the Montagnard said, ad­ding that he wanted to remain in Cam­bodia rather than being resettled in the US, and did not understand why he had not been granted refugee status.

“All the people here want to die in Site One [the name of one of the UNHCR facilities] be­cause we don’t want to go back,” he said. “If I go back Vietnam will kill me.” Vietnam has denied that returning Mon­tag­nards face persecution.

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