Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said Montagnard asylum seekers in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces must go back to Vietnam, following discussions with Vietnam’s Minister for Public Security, Le Minh Huong.
“I want them to be repatriated soon,” Sar Kheng said Wednesday, reinforcing the government’s demand that a long-term refugee situation not be created in Cambodia. “The government has no reason and qualification for them to stay in Cambodia.”
Some 320 Montagnards are living in a camp outside Mondolkiri province’s capital of Sen Monorom after fleeing Vietnam’s Central Highlands, claiming they were victims of persecution. A group of more than 50 others is in Ratanakkiri province.
“If they are allowed to get asylum in Cambodia more [Montagnards] will come to Cambodia,” Sar Kheng said.
Officials from Cambodia, Vietnam and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are scheduled to meet in Hanoi on July 26 and July 27 to determine the future of the refugees.
Sar Kheng’s announcement did not change the UNHCR’s goal of voluntary repatriation with “safety and dignity,” said Indrika Ratwatte, the UNHCR’s senior regional liaison. “It is the usual bi-lateral discussions between two countries,” he said.
If the UNHCR successfully reaches an agreement in Hanoi on repatriation terms, the Montagnards would be informed of the conditions in the Central Highlands and asked if they want to go back to Vietnam.
“The whole idea [of voluntary repatriation] is for the person to make an informed decision about their own future,” Ratwatte said.