International aid donors must demand that Cambodia honor the UN Refugee Convention and assist possibly hundreds of Montagnards from Vietnam who are reportedly hiding in Cambodian jungles, the Human Rights Watch organization said on Wednesday.
Calling on the government to grant asylum to Montagnards fleeing Vietnam’s restive Central Highlands, the US-based group said more than 400 Montagnards have been forcibly deported by Cambodian police since April.
“Cambodia is in flagrant breach of its international obligations not to deport refugees to a place where they may face serious persecution,” the group’s Mike Jendrzejczk said in a statement.
“The international community should insist that the government provide asylum to any new refugees from Vietnam,” he said.
Ratanakkiri provincial officials said on Monday they were cooperating with Vietnamese authorities to arrest and deport more than 100 Montagnards thought to be hiding in the region’s mountainous jungles.
Health officials expressed concern on Tuesday for the well-being of the Montagnards, and the UN refugee agency blasted government harassment that has prevented its staff from operating freely in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces.
“We have not seen them yet…. We are worried about their health, because now it is raining and very dangerous in the forest,” Ratanakkiri Deputy Governor Moung Poy said on Wednesday.
According to Human Rights Watch, persecution of the mostly Christian Montagnards continues in the Central Highlands, and armed Cambodian militias have been posted to villages in Ratanakkiri province to prevent asylum seekers fleeing across the border.
Undercover Vietnamese agents also cross the border uninhibited in search of Montagnards and to question Cambodian villagers on their whereabouts, the group said.
Villagers in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri have been forced to sign statements pledging not to help fleeing Montagnards under threat of arrest.
“Rather than punishing people trying to help refugees, Cambodia should be protecting the Montagnards,” Human Rights Watch said.