Cambodian authorities have deported 21 Montagnard asylum seekers whose applications for refugee status were denied by both the UN and the US.
Shortly after 7 am Friday morning, a bus carrying the Montagnards, some of whom could be seen waving goodbye, departed a Tuol Kok district holding site run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Moments before the bus departed, an elderly woman who was not deported appeared to address an emotional farewell to the departing passengers.
“These Montagnards are not refugees and the Cambodian Government is treating them in accordance with its immigration law,” the UNHCR’s Phnom Penh office wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
UNHCR referred all questions to Cambodian officials.
Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo could not be contacted.
The US Embassy said Friday that US officials had reviewed the applications of all the deported Montagnards and found that they did not qualify as refugees under US law, which applies a lower threshold than UNHCR.
As the Montagnards had arrived in Cambodia prior to May 1, they had been eligible for the “second chance” interviews, US embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said.
The US has since ended that policy in Cambodia this year, citing improved conditions in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
“Officials from the embassy observed the first stage of the repatriation. Our view is that this was carried out in an orderly and human fashion,” Daigle said.
A representative of the rights group Human Rights Watch who requested anonymity said that those deported may have difficulties when they return.
“Some of them could be quite emotional because they’re fearful of going back,” the representative said.
“They fear that they could be placed under heavy scrutiny, that the local authorities will never really trust them again and that they could end up in prison.”