Adhoc: Montagnards Rely on Villagers for Food Waiting for UNHCR

Ten Montagnard asylum-seekers from Vietnam’s Gia Lai prov­ince arrived in Ratanakkiri province on Friday and are depending on lo­cal villagers for food as they wait for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, according to local rights group Adhoc. 

The 10 were among about 50 Montagnards who tried to enter Cambodia; 40 members of the group were accosted by Viet­na­mese officials at the border and have not been heard from since, Ad­hoc’s provincial coordinator Pen Bon­nar said Monday.

“About 50 people went to the border,” he said by telephone. “When they went to the border they met the Vietnamese authorities.”

In the ensuing confusion, the group was divided and only 10, in­clu­ding a girl, a woman and eight men, were able to cross into Cam­bo­dia, he said, adding that he was con­cerned about their access to food.

“It is difficult to reach food be­cause now the people are poor,” Pen Bonnar said. “This is not a good condition for the villagers to [help] the Montagnards.”

Two men among the group have told villagers that they were recently detained and beaten in Vietnam, he added.

The UNHCR asked Cambodian authorities for permission to travel to Ratanakkiri province on Friday; however, securing permission typically takes between one and two months, UNHCR spokeswoman Deborah Backus said.

“As is standard, we will go to Ratanakkiri to retrieve them,” she said.

So far this year, UNHCR has retrieved a total of 55 asylum-seekers after they crossed the Viet­na­mese border, Backus said.

The UNHCR announced earlier this month that it had “no serious concerns” about the conditions awaiting 190 Montagnards who have returned to Vietnam’s Gia Lai province as part of an agreement be­tween the UN agency, Cam­bo­dia and Vietnam.

Backus said it was unclear why the new arrivals had chosen to flee Vietnam.

“UNHCR cannot speculate on the specific reasons that this group has sought asylum in Cambodia at this time,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“However, Montagnard asylum-seekers have generally claimed religious persecution and land disputes as their reasons for seeking asylum in Cambodia.”

 

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