An ethnic Jarai man who has assisted the more than 90 Montagnards who have fled Vietnam since October said Thursday that he has started warning the asylum seekers not to attempt to cross into Cambodia, explaining that they will likely be arrested and deported.
The Jarai villager, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from authorities, said Thursday that a Montagnard in Vietnam contacted him by telephone on Monday to say that he and three others planned to cross the border into Ratanakkiri province.
According to the villager, the four were part of a group of 36 asylum seekers who were deported by Cambodian authorities in late February as they attempted to reach Phnom Penh to apply for refugee status.
“One…telephoned me and asked me if we are able to receive them if he comes with four [total] people,” he said, adding that the Montagnard told him that the group had been repeatedly harassed by Vietnamese authorities since being returned to the country.
“I told him not to come back this time because it is difficult for us to hide them,” he said. “The authorities are strict and they would arrest them and send them back to Vietnam.”
Since late October, multiple groups of Vietnam’s indigenous Montagnards have fled into Cambodia—mostly through Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadaw and Lumphat districts—claiming to be fleeing religious and political persecution in Vietnam.
O’Yadaw district governor Mar Vichet said Thursday that his authorities were not preventing Montagnards from entering Cambodia, as long as they did so legally.
“They should have legal documents and use the same process as in other countries,” he said.
When the first group of 13 Montagnards arrived in Ratanakkiri six months ago, the Jarai villager worked with local rights group Adhoc to help the U.N. reach them. The U.N. transferred the 13 to Phnom Penh and in early March the Interior Ministry recognized them as refugees.
Since then, however, the U.N. has failed to reach other Montagnards hiding in the northern province and the Jarai villagers assisting them—at least 23 remain in Ratanakkiri—have become dismayed at the lack of assistance.
“We received those refugees before, because the U.N. rescued them from the forest,” the villager said. “But now they stopped helping them, and I don’t know why.”
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said in an email Thursday that her office was still attempting to assist the Montagnards.
“OHCHR has been helping the asylum seekers in Ratanakkiri and in Phnom Penh since they first appeared,” she said.