Police in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district on Tuesday wrapped up an unsuccessful 10-day search in a village for five Montagnard asylum-seekers from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, said Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator.
About 30 police were looking for the four men and one woman who they believed were hiding in Pok Nyay commune’s Lom village, Pen Bonnar said.
“Police looked in the forest, looked in the homes and asked the people, but the people said they didn’t know” where the Montagnards were, Pen Bonnar said.
“The people appeal to the UNHCR to go to help [the five] immediately,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs two or three weeks ago for permission to go and look for the five, said Thamrongsak Meechubot, UNHCR country representative.
“We remind [the ministry] that we are still waiting,” he said.
Hem Heng, Foreign Ministry spokesman, was not available for comment Thursday evening.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that the ministry has never ordered police to search for Montagnards in order to send them back to Vietnam.
“We don’t encourage Montagnards to [come] into Cambodia, but we also fulfill our obligations as members of the 1951 convention” on refugees, he said.
Asked about the reported police operation, Hor Ang, deputy provincial police chief, said: “I asked [villagers] to report to us, so that [the Montagnards] would not live miserably in the forest and could come and get shelter.”
According to a report by Agence France-Presse, a UNHCR official who recently visited the Central Highlands said he saw no sign of mistreatment of Montagnards who voluntarily returned to Vietnam after leaving UNHCR protection.
“While talking with the returnees they all said they had no problems,” AFP quoted Vu Anh Son, a Vietnamese national and head of mission for UNHCR in Vietnam, as saying.