Eighteen months after they fled to the forests of Ratanakkiri province seeking refuge from repression in Vietnam, 13 Montagnards are set to be flown to the Philippines on Friday, the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday.
However, the U.N. would not say whether the group of recognized refugees, which the government said in January would be transferred to the Philippines while seeking asylum in a third country, had found a permanent home.
The asylum seekers—who set off a new wave of Montagnards fleeing into Cambodia when they crossed the border in November 2014—are the only ones to have been granted refugee status of the more than 200 who entered the country since.
Vivian Tan, regional press officer for UNHCR, confirmed in an email that the group would leave Cambodia on Friday but could not say whether a third country had been secured for them.
“I can confirm that they are leaving for the Philippines on Friday in line with the agreement reached between the relevant parties. At this point I don’t have further details,” Ms. Tan said, adding that UNHCR would be providing accommodation and support for the Montagnards in the Philippines.
Sok Phal, director of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, directed questions to Tan Sovichea, head of the immigration department’s refugee office, who claimed not to know about the case.
The Montagnards—a mostly Christian group of indigenous minorities concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—claim to have fled their homeland due to increased religious and political persecution at the hands of Hanoi.
Following a meeting between the Interior Ministry and UNHCR officials in January, the government announced that the remaining 171 Montagnards in Cambodia would have their asylum claims assessed. However, less than a month later, a ministry spokesman said they had all failed the interview process and would be deported to Vietnam.
Last month, one of the group was found dead in a Phnom Penh residence provided by the UNHCR after committing suicide.