Montagnard Refugees: Situation ‘Hopeful’

A delegation of US-based Montagnard rights advocates left Cambodia Friday saying they were “hopeful” for some 400 hill tribe asylum seekers under UN protection in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces and praising the UN’s efforts here.

“In general, we’re pleased with the quality of care given to the Montagnards from Vietnam,” said Kay Reibold of the Vietnam Highlands Assistance Project.

The delegation, which arrived last week and visited both Mont­agnard camps, pushed for resettlement in the US as the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees is negotiating a repatriation deal with Vietnam. Under the current circumstances, delegation numbers say returning the Mont­agnards to Vietnam is impossible.

But Indrika Ratwatte, a senior regional liaison officer for UNHCR, said the delegation’s visit to the camps and their interviews with Montagnards there may have tempered this view.

“I think going to the field and talking to UNHCR staff on the ground definitely helped them see the reality,” he said.

Ratwatte said ongoing talks with Hanoi on the Montagnard issue are going well, and that he expects Vietnam will agree to UNHCR’s demands for access to the Central Highlands, where a government crackdown earlier this year forced hundreds of Montagnards to flee into Cam­bodia.


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