The Cambodian government is still considering a US offer to resettle nearly 1,000 Montagnard asylum seekers now staying in UN camps in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday.
“The government has not decided yet,” the prime minister was quoted by Reuters as saying. “But we will consider the US request.”
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Wednesday there was no indication from Cambodian officials about when that decision would be made.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher asked Cambodia to respond “as quickly as possible” to the offer.
Asked by a reporter if Vietnam has “any say” with the US over the resettlement issue, Boucher replied: “No, they don’t have any right of approval of any of these people. These people are out of Vietnam and being considered by the international community for resettlement.”
Boucher said recent incidents, including alleged threats and attacks on UNHCR staff by Vietnamese citizens who were bused into the Mondolkiri camp, caused the US and other countries “to reassess the near-term prospects for a population whose future has been unresolved for far too long.”
In Ratanakkiri, there have been no visits in recent days from Vietnamese claiming to be asylum seekers’ relatives and no new arrivals, according to UNHCR official Joran Rosen. “It has been very calm,” he said.
One year ago, 38 asylum seekers were brought to Phnom Penh from Mondolkiri. They were given visas by the US Embassy and flown to the state of North Carolina in April 2001.
In the ensuing months, hundreds more Montagnards crossed the border, fleeing what they said was continued religious and ethnic persecution by Vietnamese authorities. Officials and diplomats in Phnom Penh remain concerned that allowing any more resettlements to the US will only prompt another increase in border crossings.
Pat Priest, director of Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas’ Refugee, Resettlement and Immigration Services, told The Associated Press that organizations and churches in North Carolina are “on alert” and making preparations for new arrivals.