The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and local rights group Adhoc have received reports that 52 Montagnard asylum-seekers were apprehended in Ratanakkiri province and deported back to Vietnam last week.
The announcement comes as Adhoc reported that an additional 35 Montagnards slipped over the border and into the province on Friday, and are now trying to reach the UNHCR.
“Fifty-two people were sent back to Vietnam after they were arrested by local authorities, according to villagers,” Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator, said by telephone.
He added that the deportation reportedly happened in O’Yadaw district late last week, within days of the 52 arriving from Vietnam.
UNHCR spokeswoman Deborah Backus said the organization plans to leave for Ratanakkiri to try and locate the 35 within the next two weeks.
“We’re hoping it should be sooner than that. It should be in the next week but it depends when we get approval from the government,” Backus said.
“We’ll also be investigating the deportation we’ve heard of,” she said, adding that the UN agency cannot yet confirm the reports.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be contacted, while Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal said he had just returned from abroad and was not aware of the reported deportation.
“I know only [of Montagnards] sent back to Vietnam by UNHCR,” he said.
Yoeung Baloung, provincial police chief, said he had not received any reports of a deportation, as did Moung Poy, deputy provincial governor.
New York based-Human Rights Watch has received reports of the incident.
“We’re concerned to continually receive reports of Montagnard asylum-seekers being forced back to Vietnam before they’ve had a chance to have their claims assessed by the UN,” a Rights Watch official said.
“Cambodian authorities are not only violating the Refugee Convention, but also the memorandum of understanding they signed with the UN and the Vietnamese government earlier this year,” the official added, referring to a tripartite agreement signed in January that dealt with the repatriation of Montagnards.