Ratanakkiri province – Five Montagnard asylum-seekers sought protection at the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh on Friday, amid efforts by the agency to return to Ratanakkiri province where a reported 42 Montagnards are hiding in the jungle requesting UN protection.
The five men who presented themselves at the UNHCR main office bring the total number of Montagnards now under protection in UN facilities in the capital to 294.
A UNHCR staff member confirmed the arrivals of the five men but had no details on how they made their way to the capital.
By Friday evening, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had still not responded to a UNHCR request made Tuesday to return to Ratanakkiri to investigate the reports of 42 men, women and young children hiding in the province.
While the Foreign Ministry decides on whether the UNHCR will be allowed to provide protection to asylum-seekers in Ratanakkiri, local ethnic minority members have reported large police deployments in villages where some 198 Montagnards emerged from the jungle under UN protection last month.
Jarai villagers interviewed on Wednesday and Thursday reported day and night police patrols in villages and jungle areas in an apparent bid to track down the 42. One villager also reported that police have ordered several ethnic minority families in his area to remain confined to their villages because of suspicion that some may try and give food to asylum-seekers hiding in the jungle.
Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said on Friday he knew nothing of new reports of asylums-seekers or whether the UNHCR would be allowed return to his province.
Ratanakkiri Second Deputy Governor Muong Poy also said he did not know when the UNHCR would be allowed to return and denied any knowledge of the reported police operations in Jarai villages in the areas where the UNHCR was working last month.
“I do not know what [the police] are doing because the governor controls them,” Muong Poy said.
The government allowed the UNHCR to travel to Ratanakkiri on July 17 to investigate reports that hundreds of Montagnards were hiding in the jungle with little food, water and medicine.
Working with government officials, the refugee agency collected nearly 200 refugees in about two weeks and flew them to Phnom Penh.
Despite being allowed to travel to Ratanakkiri just a few weeks ago, the UNHCR needs to ask permission from the government to be allowed back up to the northeast to investigate the latest reports of asylum-seekers hiding in the forests.