After the latest arrival of Montagnard asylum seekers to Phnom Penh brought the total to 74, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman said Thursday the government was “fed up” with Montagnards and there were no plans to allow them to apply for asylum.
Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman, said Cambodia would not even have allowed the Montagnards to stay in the country if it had not been criticized for deporting previous groups.
“We are fed up with the refugee program and the Montagnards. We don’t have any interest in them, but we just only receive pressure,” he said.
“We don’t care about the 47, or whatever,” he added, referring to the asylum seekers.
All of the Montagnards—an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—have said they are fleeing persecution by the Vietnamese government, which maintains close ties with Cambodia.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said there are now 74 Montagnards in Phnom Penh waiting to apply for asylum.
“The latest groups arrived over the past few weeks,” she said in an email.
In addition to the 74 asylum seekers, some of whom have been in the capital since January, there are 13 other Montagnards in the city. The Interior Ministry officially recognized the 13 as refugees in March.
General Sopheak said Thursday that the ministry asked the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in March to find a third country in which to settle the 13.
“Since we granted them refugee status, we sent a letter to UNHCR to ask them to find a third country for those 13 people to resettle,” he said. “So far we haven’t heard even a line—they are quiet like a thief.”
Vivian Tan, regional press officer for UNHCR, said the U.N. was still searching for a third country.
“We have been trying but there has been no outcome so far,” she said by email.
Since October, more than 130 Montagnards have entered Cambodia, many through Ratanakkiri province in the country’s northeast. About 50 were arrested and deported in February.
Local ethnic Jarai villagers aided the asylum seekers as they arrived. One of the villagers, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said Thursday there are six Montagnards left in Ratanakkiri.
“Now, no more Montagnard people come to Ratanakkiri and the six are still hiding in the forest,” he said.
The Montagnards’ arrival in October was the latest influx since thousands began fleeing to Cambodia in 2001. Of those, about 2,000 were eventually resettled in the U.S.
In an interview earlier this month, however, one of the Montagnard refugees in Phnom Penh said he and his group did not want to be resettled in the western world.
Instead, he said, they wanted to stay in Cambodia until they are given legal ownership of the land they claim was taken from them in Vietnam.
(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap)