Dressed in new clothes and with their few belongings packed in International Organization for Migration-marked plastic bags, eight Montagnard refugees flew out of Phnom Penh on Wednesday morning to a new life in Canada.
Montagnards have been resettled in the US and Finland, but this is the first group to go to Canada, UN High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement officer Teresa Woods said.
The group will resettle in Vancouver, Canada, a city that’s a good fit considering its multicultural population, though this will be the first Montagnard population there, Wood said.
Sitting outside the Phnom Penh International Airport terminal waiting for their flight, the seven men and one woman admitted they didn’t know anything about Canada.
“When we get to Canada we hope Canada will support us and give us education,” Y Kla, 43, said through a translator.
Y Kla and his nephew Dieu Lanh were arrested in their village in Vietnam’s Dak Nong province last May after villagers protested against the Vietnamese government’s restrictions on religious freedom and land grabbing in the Central Highlands.
“We need religious freedom and our land back,” Dieu Lanh said.
The Vietnamese police accused Montagnards of helping the French in the 1950s and the US in the 1960s, Y Kla said.
On May 21, 2004, Y Kla and Dieu Lanh decided to leave their families and escape to Cambodia.
Released by Vietnamese police, the two men left their village and hid in the jungle where Y Kla’s son delivered food before they started their hard journey to Cambodia. They hid from Cambodian and Vietnamese security forces until they were taken under the protection of UNHCR on Aug 8, Y Kla said.
Moving to a country they know nothing about will be hard, they said. But they hope their families can follow. Before entering the terminal Y Kla said, “I hope to get my family sponsored so they can come, too.”