The U.N. has confirmed that a group of 36 Montagnards who went missing on Wednesday night after attempting to escape their forest hideouts in Ratanakkiri province on a truck bound for Phnom Penh have been deported back to Vietnam.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh, condemned the mass deportation along with that of four additional asylum seekers who were detained on Tuesday and have since been handed over to Vietnamese authorities.
“OHCHR has learned that over 40 Montagnards were deported on 24 and 25 February,” Ms. Lee said in an email Friday night.
“OHCHR deplores these deportations–a sad reflection of Cambodia’s commitment to abide by the Refugee Convention and the United Nations Convention against Torture, both of which are legally binding on Cambodia,” she said.
The latest deportations come after Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri said on Friday that 36 of the asylum seekers had “disappeared” after attempting to flee their camps in Lumphat, O’Yadaw and Bakeo districts late Wednesday night in a truck destined for the capital.
The group–who claim to be fleeing religious and political persecution in Vietnam–have requested the U.N.’s help in ensuring that their refugee claims are processed by the Interior Ministry’s refugee department in Phnom Penh.
Despite this, local security forces again blocked a U.N. mission last week attempting to reach the Montagnards who have been hiding out in the province, saying the mission was not approved by the provincial governor or Interior Ministry.
The latest wave of Montagnards–an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands–into the country began in October and has seen more than 60 of the ethnic minorities cross the porous border seeking refuge.
The Interior Ministry’s immigration department in Phnom Penh is currently processing asylum applications of a group of 13 Montagnards, while 10 others are in the capital waiting to apply for asylum