Sixteen Montagnards were handed over to Vietnamese officials on Friday after having their asylum appeals rejected, despite initially refusing to leave due to fears they would be persecuted upon return.
“All 16 returned to their homeland at around 9 a.m. this morning,” said deputy Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun. The group — who initially told authorities they would not leave Phnom Penh due to their fear of Vietnamese authorities, but were told they had no choice — were repatriated with the assistance of UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency. The UNHCR did not respond to requests for comment.
The Montagnards claim to have escaped oppression — including rampant land grabbing — in Vietnam’s Central Highlands for reasons that include practicing a form of Christianity not sanctioned by Hanoi.
The group’s fears of reprisals was amplified by the experiences of other Montagnards who said they were subjected to widespread surveillance upon return, and two who said they were forced to make TV confessions apologizing for their escape.
The latest repatriation leaves 49 Montagnards in Phnom Penh waiting for their cases to be heard at the Court of Appeal after their applications were rejected. Only three Montagnards have received asylum this year.