Thirteen Montagnards who have been granted refugee status in Phnom Penh have had their deadline for finding a third country to settle in extended by three months, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday.
The group of 13, who arrived in Ratanakkiri province after crossing the border claiming to be fleeing persecution in Vietnam a year ago, were granted refugee status in March and have been living in Phnom Penh while the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) attempts to find them a permanent home.
The latest deadline for the UNHCR to resettle them expired on October 10, but due to “good cooperation” between the government and the U.N., the 13 have until January 10 to find a new country, the statement said. It remains unclear what fate they will face if a third country cannot be found.
In its statement, the ministry also extended its deadline for more than 200 Montagnards who have been stuck in Phnom Penh with the government refusing to even process their refugee claims, telling them to return to Vietnam by February 6. In mid-September, the government said the 200 Montagnards had three months to return to Vietnam or be forcibly sent back.
The ministry also accused the UNHCR of helping the asylum seekers illegally enter the country.
“As for the more than 200 Montagnards that UNHCR smuggled to Phnom Penh, they are considered to have violated Cambodian territory,” the statement said.
Vivian Tan, the UNHCR’s regional spokeswoman, said by email that the organization was continuing to seek a third country for the 13 refugees and denied claims that the organization had violated any laws.
“For confidentiality reasons we don’t usually identify the countries we approach [for resettlement], but will keep pursuing this option,” Ms. Tan said.
“We do not help people to leave their own country to seek asylum elsewhere. When asylum-seekers arrive in Cambodia, we refer them to the government for registration and processing,” she said.