Amnesty International has launched an international appeal for Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities to reveal the whereabouts of a family of Montagnard asylum-seekers believed to have been forcibly returned to Vietnam last week.
In a Jan 14 statement, Amnesty called on the international public to contact co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Om Yentieng, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser, stressing Cambodia’s obligation under the UN refugee convention not to return people to countries where they face the risk of persecution.
Providing fax numbers for Sar Kheng and Om Yentieng, Amnesty asked the public to inform the two officials of concerns about the family’ safety adding: “Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible.”
Amnesty asked the public to also contact Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, urging him to guarantee the family’s safety.
The family of four—including two girls aged three years and nine months—was detained by police at a Phnom Penh guest house for several nights last week without the UN refugee agency being allowed to assess their asylum claims. They were later returned to Vietnam, rights workers and the UN said Thursday.
US-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday that Cambodian authorities took the father while he tried to gain access to a UN High Commissioner for Refugees facility in Phnom Penh on Jan 9. Later the same day, his wife and two daughters were taken from inside the UN site while trying to seek sanctuary, Human Rights Watch said.
Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, denied Tuesday that police took the family from inside the UN facility.
“If they are under the control of the UNHCR, we never take them from the shelter, never, never,” he said.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Nguyen Thanh Duc said he had only heard about the family’s fate from local news reports.
Local human rights group Adhoc said Monday that there are
51 Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in Ratanakkiri province trying to reach the UNHCR. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has denied the UN permission to reach the Montagnards, Adhoc said.
UNHCR country representative Thamrongsak Meechubot did not return repeated calls Tuesday.