Six Montagnard asylum-seekers who claim to have fled political and religious persecution by authorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands were returned to their homeland on Tuesday after Cambodia rejected their refugee applications.
The six people, including one girl under the age of 10, were accompanied across the border by officials from the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said Sok Sam An, a deputy chief of the O’yadaw border checkpoint in Ratanakkiri province.
“The six people crossed the border successfully and the Vietnamese authorities came to pick them up at about 9 a.m.,” he said.
Vivian Tan, regional press officer for the UNHCR, confirmed the agency had helped escort the group across the border.
“Yes, 6 Montagnards were assisted home today under the existing arrangement whereby UNHCR facilitates return for rejected asylum cases. These were all rejected cases,” she said in an email, adding that she did not have further details due to being in the field in Burma.
Denise Coghlan, head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been providing assistance to the Montagnards in Phnom Penh, said another 143 were still awaiting decisions, but there was no indication as to when they would learn their fate.
The latest wave of Montagnards crossing into Ratanakkiri province began in late 2014, but started to dry up the following year amid dozens of deportations to Vietnam, where they have long been persecuted by the Vietnamese government for backing French and U.S. forces during the First and Second Indochina Wars.
Ms. Coghlan said she was not aware of any significant problems among those who had been deported and that the UNHCR had promised it was monitoring their situation.
An initial group of 13 was granted refugee status and flown to the Philippines in May while they seek asylum in a third country.
Ms. Coghlan said on Tuesday that the 13 were still in the Philippines, but she could not provide information on their future prospects.
The refugee department at the Interior Ministry could not be reached for comment.