The head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department said on Friday that 13 refugees from Vietnam who are currently living in Phnom Penh could be heading to New Zealand next week, a claim contradicted by the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR).
On Wednesday, Interior Ministry officials announced that the 13 Montagnard refugees who arrived in Cambodia in late 2014 and were granted refugee status were to be transferred to the Philippines while they seek permanent residency in a third country.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Phnom Penh, Sok Phal, head of the immigration department, said he believed the group could be sent to New Zealand next week.
“For the 13 Montagnards, the UNHCR will make efforts to find a country to send them to as soon as possible,” General Phal said. “The UNHCR promised they will send them next week and the country they will go to might be New Zealand.”
However, Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said in an email that the agency was “exploring different options” and that no decisions on a third country had been made.
Asked on Thursday about the decision to relocate the refugees to the Philippines, Ms. Tan called it a “temporary transit facility for refugees who are unable to remain in their country of first asylum.”
It was also announced this week that 171 Montagnards—who claim to have fled persecution in Vietnam —would have their refugee applications processed.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)