Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said Monday he is anxious to stop the flow of Montagnard asylum seekers into Cambodia, but feels caught between the divergent interests of Vietnam and the UN.
“We are very concerned about solving this issue,” he said. “Vietnam is our neighboring country and we need cooperation and friendly relations with them, but we also have to think in accordance with the international community.”
“If the UN and Cambodia are ready for another meeting, then Vietnam is ready for another meeting to settle the problem,” said Nguyen Duy Hung, the Vietnamese ambassador to Cambodia.
Sar Kheng on Monday expressed a strong preference that the Montagnards be repatriated to Vietnam, rather than resettled in third countries like the US, where 38 Montagnards were sent in March.
“If we send them back, they will not come back into Cambodia. But if they are sent to third countries, more Montagnards will flow into Cambodia,” he said.
The Vietnamese ambassador did not express any new willingness to allow UNHCR monitors into the Montagnard regions, a minimum condition for repatriation established by the UNHCR.
“Why should we [allow UNHCR monitors into the highlands]? There’s no need,” he said. “Our government has assured that they will be well-treated.”
Nguyen Duy Hung said the Montagnards are fleeing Vietnam not because of any political oppression, but because of “foreign propaganda that incites people to leave the country. They have an illusion of living in another country.”
Newly arrived asylum-seekers in Mondolkiri province have set up shelters at the UNHCR camp, awaiting interviews to determine if they are classified by the UN as “persons of concern,” said John Farvolden, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Cambodia.
The asylum seekers are being given the chance to settle in before the screening process begins.