The Interior Ministry has interviewed about two-thirds of the 159 Montagnard asylum-seekers living in Phnom Penh after fleeing from Vietnam over the past two years, but has yet to approve any of their applications, an official said on Sunday.
The clarification from Tan Sovichea, head of the ministry’s refugee department, came after The Cambodia Daily incorrectly reported last week that all of the remaining Montagnards had been ordered to return to Vietnam within two weeks.
That article was based on an interview with Kem Sarin, a spokesman for the ministry’s general department of immigration, who said that all of the asylum-seekers had been interviewed and that those who failed to meet the necessary criteria had two weeks to leave.
Mr. Sovichea said that among the 94 individuals who have had their refugee requests processed, none had met the criteria set out in the U.N.’s Refugee Convention, but that there were still 65 asylum-seekers waiting to be interviewed.
“So far, there are no people who have passed because the answers of those interviewed did not comply with the Refugee Convention,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that some of the remaining group would be approved.
“I think there are some people who will pass among the people who have applied and are staying in Cambodia, but so far we have only chosen the people who are not real refugees.”
Mr. Sovichea said that those who failed had been given 30 days to appeal the decision, and that the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees was waiting for the entire group to be processed before assisting in the return of those who fail.
“They would need to spend a lot of money for renting vehicles to transport them home on many separate trips, so that is why they are now waiting for more failed people to send them all at one time,” he said.
An initial group of 13 Montagnards who crossed into Ratanak-
kiri province in late 2014 received refugee status and are now in the Philippines awaiting permanent resettlement in another country.