Ratanakkiri provincial immigration police deported a Montagnard asylum-seeker Friday, human rights workers confirmed Tuesday.
Provincial police arrested Kasal Krok, 55, an ethnic Jarai from Vietnam’s Dak Lak province, in a taxi a few kilometers outside the provincial capital of Banlung, said Pen Bonnar, head of Adhoc’s Ratanakkiri office.
“He can speak Jarai and we have had witnesses confirm that he really is a Montagnard, not an illegal Vietnamese immigrant,” Pen Bonnar said Tuesday. “He tried to flee to Phnom Penh to find the UN [High Commissioner for Refugees] office to ask for help.”
At least four other asylum-seekers were deported by Ratanakkiri police last Thursday, according to the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a group of 17 local rights groups.
Police deported Kasal Krok after they stopped his taxi and discovered he could not speak Khmer, said Hor Ang, Ratanakkiri’s deputy police chief.
“The deported man is not a Montagnard, but an illegal immigrant,” he insisted Tuesday.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun said he would no longer speak to reporters.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday that his ministry had received no reports of deportations.
But, he added, “Cambodian law enforcement officers have to implement the immigration law.
If [foreigners] have no travel documents, they must be sent back.”
Thirty-seven Montagnards with little food, water or medicine have been interviewed and photographed in Ratanakkiri this past month.
They and local hill tribe sources say up to 250 asylum seekers may be in the province.
“I feel pity if they are real refugees,” Khieu Sopheak said of those hiding in Ratanakkiri.
He deferred the question of when the UNHCR would be allowed to open offices in Ratanakkiri or Mondolkiri provinces to Long Visalo, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
When contacted Tuesday, Long Visalo promptly hung up the phone.
“Cambodia must do more to help the Montagnards irrespective of threats we receive from Vietnam,” opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday. UNHCR officials should be granted access to all Montagnard asylum seekers, he added.
“It is our duty, because we were refugees in Thailand,” Sam Rainsy said.
“If we had been treated as badly by the Thais as the Montagnards are treated, then we would’ve been dead.”
(Additional reporting by William Shaw)