A total of eight Montagnard asylum seekers on Thursday traveled directly to the Phnom Penh offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN agency said.
“Eight Montagnards came to our office today,” Protection Officer Toshitsuki Kawauchi said.
Most Montagnard asylum seekers request UNHCR’s assistance immediately after crossing the Vietnamese border, requiring the agency and government officials to travel to retrieve them in remote border areas. However, Kawauchi said that for unknown reasons Montagnards had in recent months been traveling directly to Phnom Penh to begin their applications for refugee status.
“UNHCR does not think of where they are coming from if they are asking for help,” he added.
So far this year, 150 new Montagnard asylum seekers have been taken into UNHCR’s care in Phnom Penh, where a total of 500 Montagnards are now in the process of seeking asylum, Kawauchi said.
Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri province coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, which has previously helped locate Montagnard asylum seekers who cross from Vietnam into the province’s jungles, said that since November no Montagnard asylum seekers had crossed the border in Ratanakkiri.
“I also wonder why they aren’t crossing the border here,” he said. “I am surprised to hear they are coming directly to Phnom Penh.”