Montagnards who have escaped to Cambodia should not be returned to Vietnam until international monitors are allowed into the Central Highlands to guarantee their safety, a Montagnard activist told the UN last week.
Kok Ksor, president of the US-based Montagnard Foundation, also blasted a trilateral agreement between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Vietnam and Cambodia as “flawed and dangerous” because the UNHCR cannot guarantee the Montagnards’ safety when returned to Vietnam.
“Any attempt to return Montagnard refugees to Vietnam without guaranteeing their safety…will fail in the long term as returned refugees face reprisals,” Kok Ksor told the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on April 11.
Vietnam has refused to allow observers into that Central Highlands area to monitor the return of asylum-seekers whose applications have been denied.
“We ask that under no circumstances should the Montagnard refugees be returned to Vietnam unless international monitors are granted permanent residence to the region to guarantee their protection,” Kok Ksor said.
US-based Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the tripartite agreement, saying it “absolutely needs an overhaul.”
“We are concerned the agreement as it stands not only places some 700 Montagnards in Phnom Penh in a situation of uncertainty and even risk, but it sets a dangerous precedent for other repatriation efforts such as Burma,” a Rights Watch representative said.
A UNHCR representative, however, said the agreement complied with international laws and, while it may not be perfect, the refugee organization has to work with governments, not against them.
The agreement will be reviewed at a meeting in Geneva later this month, the representative said, adding that a monitoring visit to the Central Highlands is “on its way.”
Seventy-five Montagnards whose refugee applications have been rejected, are scheduled to be returned to Vietnam in the next month. They are being kept together under military police guard at former UN-run refugee site in Phnom Penh.