Montagnards Decline Resettlement in US

More than 100 Montagnard asylum-seekers under the protection of the UN refugee agency in Phnom Penh have refused resettlement in the US, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In a statement dated Friday, the UNHCR said many of the

441 Montagnards who were trans­ported to Phnom Penh from Ra­tanakkiri province had crossed into Cambodia with the mistaken impression that the UNHCR would help them reclaim confiscated land.

“This situation has placed the UNHCR in a quandary as our mandate is to provide international protection for refugees, not re­solve land disputes, and the Cam­bodian government also wishes for a speedy resettlement,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Red­mond said in the statement.

According to UNHCR officials Sun­day, 13 Montagnards have left the agency’s site in Phnom Penh within the past two months, seeking to return to Vietnam.

Those recognized as refugees were offered resettlement “but they have overwhelmingly rejected it,” the statement said.

Some 110 out of 148 Montag­nards considered for resettlement in the US said they did not want to emigrate, citing concerns about their families in Vietnam and difficulties adjusting to a new country, the statement said.

Cathy Shin of the UNHCR in Phnom Penh said her organization would again offer the Mon­tag­nards the option of re­settlement.

“Some may change their minds after they make informed de­cisions,” she said, adding that the UNHCR would work with the government to figure out what to do with those who still refuse re­set­tlement.

Among a recent group of 54 apparent asylum-seekers re­trieved from the jungles of Ra­ta­nak­kiri, the UNHCR discovered a family of six Cambodians who were not seeking refugee protection, Shin said.

The remaining 48 Montag­nards will likely be brought to Phnom Penh, she said, but from now on the UNHCR will provide more extensive prescreening and counseling before bringing asylum-seekers to Phnom Penh from the border provinces.

“We’re definitely changing our modus operandi,” she said.

Sok Phal, chief of the Interior Min­istry’s Central Security De­part­ment, said Sunday that he did not know what will happen to Montagnards who refuse resettlement. But, he said: “We continue to cooperate with the UNHCR.”

Hem Heng, a press officer for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said he had no information on the government’s plans for those wishing to repatriate.

Calls to officials at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh were unsuccessful Sunday.



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