Agreement Stipulates Return of 75 Montagnards

An agreement between Cam­bo­dia, Vietnam and the UN re­quires 75 Montagnards whose re­fugee applications were rejected to be returned to Vietnam with­in the next month, an official said Monday.

Attempts to interview the 75 Montagnards on Monday, who are reportedly against being de­por­ted back to Vietnam, were blocked by military police guarding the fenced, gated and razor-wired residence in Tuol Kok district, which was once administered by the UN.

The military police, who threatened to take a reporter’s camera if he took pictures, said there were no longer UNHCR or Jesuit Refugee Service staff at the site.

UNHCR staff said on Monday that their site, which is still clearly marked with blue-colored UNHCR placards on the front gates, now be­longs to the government and permission to meet with the Mon­tagnards must be ob­tained from the Ministry of For­­eign Af­fairs.

“All sites are actually government sites. We don’t have to be there 24 hours a day,” a UNHCR official said.

On Monday, officials from the UNHCR, Vietnam and Cambodia met in Phnom Penh ahead of a meeting in Geneva on the Mon­tag­nard issue scheduled for the end of the month.

After the meeting, Raja Panpay, UNHCR deputy regional representative, said the continued presence in Phnom Penh of the 75 and others whose refugee status has been rejected could prompt Cambodia to turn other asylum-seekers away.

“Our main concern is keeping an asylum space alive in Cam­bo­dia,” he said, adding the three par­ties are trying to find a “painless” way to return to Viet­nam those who have been rejected.

There is no proof that Montag­nards are being mistreated on their return to Vietnam, Panpay said, and though UNHCR is aware of concern by some NGOs, the UN has not seen any hard evidence of intimidation, persecution or violence.

“We do not have established cases of people being mistreated. We can’t hold government’s ac­coun­table on hearsay,” Panpay said.

New York-based Human Rights watch expressed concern for the 75. The group noted that the UNHCR should al­so be concerned about their fate, given that the UN agency has not been al­lowed to enter Vietnam’s Central High­lands to in­­de­pen­dent­ly monitor the situation faced by those who have been re­turned.

“Human Rights Watch has documented recent cases of beatings, arbitrary arrests and harassment against returnees from Cambodia,” Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, wrote last week.



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