Government Denies Asylum Appeals of 16 Montagnards, Official Says

Sixteen more Montagnards will be sent back to Vietnam after the government rejected their appeals for asylum in Cambodia, an official said on Wednesday, leaving 33 in Phnom Penh still awaiting decisions on their own appeals for previously denied applications.

“The refugee department has refused to give asylum status for the 16 people because they don’t have enough documents” showing they would be eligible for asylum, said Houl Sarith, head of the refugee department’s office for receiving applications of asylum-seekers at the Interior Ministry.

A group of Montagnards who last month left Phnom Penh for Vietnam in April this year. (Montagnards Assistance Project)

The decision to “drop” the 16 was made a week ago, he added.

A total of 52 Montagnards—who say they have faced persecution in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—currently live in a rented house in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Three were granted asylum earlier this year.

Mr. Sarith said he did not know when the 16 would be returned to Vietnam, as the U.N. would facilitate their departure.

But his department had no plans to meet with UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency that facilitates transit, after it previously requested the department explain its past decisions regarding granting or denying asylum, Mr. Sarith said.

“We don’t have any reason to give more explanations to the U.N. because the evidence and the answers of those people are enough for us to drop them,” he said, adding that the refugee department would agree to meet UNHCR if the agency had more documents to justify that the asylum appeals should be granted.

Recent returnees to Vietnam claim to have been subjected to widespread surveillance after being repatriated.

Mr. Sarith said his department had not informed UNHCR of its decision to deny the appeals of the 16 people.

Vivian Tan, UNHCR’s regional press officer, said in an email that she was “not aware of any final decisions issued by the Refugee Department” involving the 16. But she said the agency was continuing to offer information “on the cases under review to ensure that they have been assessed in line with international standards.”

“We will continue to facilitate voluntary return of rejected asylum-seekers on an exceptional basis,” she added.

(Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco)

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