With Interviews Concluded, 13 Montagnards Return to Vietnam

A group of 13 asylum-seekers who fled from Vietnam to Cambodia over the past two years to apply for refugee status returned to their home country’s central highlands on Tuesday morning, after the Interior Ministry completed interviewing the entire group of 167 last week.

The U.N.’s High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transported the group of 13 through Ratanakkiri province’s O’yadaw border checkpoint, where Vietnamese officials picked them up and returned them to their hometowns, according to the agency’s regional spokeswoman, Vivian Tan.

The Interior Ministry’s refugee department finished interviewing the entire group of 167 asylum- seekers from the region on Friday, said Tan Sovichea, the department’s director.

“We have not yet determined how many people passed and how many people failed,” he said. “We are now evaluating each case to determine the status of asylum- seekers, and then we will send them case by case to be evaluated by the interior minister for a final decision.”

Mr. Sovichea added that he did not know when the evaluation process would be complete, but said the majority of the group would likely have their applications rejected.

The U.N.’s involvement in the process has been controversial, with human rights advocates saying that Cambodia is not giving proper consideration to the asylum-seekers due to political pressure from Vietnam.

The UNHCR has said its assistance is conditional upon Vietnam allowing the agency to follow up with the returned Montagnards to ensure they are not being persecuted. Ms. Tan of the UNHCR said groups that have been returned over the past year “seem to have settled back in their villages with no significant problem.”

Denise Coghlan, head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been providing assistance to the Montagnards in Phnom Penh, said one family among the 13 people had appealed their rejection before being returned to Vietnam.

As the UNHCR continues monitoring those that have been returned, she said, “they may keep a special look-out” for that case.

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