The Cambodian government has granted asylum to three Montagnards while rejecting the applications of 65 others in Phnom Penh, who can remain in the country while appealing the decision, an official said on Wednesday.
“We already finished the evaluation and we provided asylum for three people,” said Houl Sarith, head of the refugee department’s application office for asylum-seekers at the Interior Ministry.
The refugee department was now preparing to hand over the approved cases—involving two men and a child—to the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR), he said, adding he did not have details about the trio’s approvals.
The 65 rejected Montagnards have filed appeals, Mr. Sarith said, adding that he did not know the date the decisions were made.
“We have not yet made a final decision for the asylum seekers because the people who failed have filed a complaint with the Court of Appeal because they did not agree with our decision,” Mr. Sarith said.
If their appeals fail, preparations will be made to have the UNHCR assist with their repatriation to Vietnam, he said.
“We will make a request to the Vietnamese side for sending those people back if the Court of Appeal upholds the case,” he said.
It is uncertain how long the Montagnards have been in Phnom Penh or when the Court of Appeal would make a decision. The Montagnards —also known as the Degar—are indigenous, ethnic minority groups from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, who have long faced widespread religious and political persecution.
Denise Coghlan, head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been providing assistance to the Montagnards, confirmed the asylum approvals, and said in an email that the next step would be to find “a durable solution for them along with others who win their appeals.”
Vivian Tan, regional press officer for the UNHCR, said the agency was “working with the authorities on the appropriate durable solutions” for the three who had their applications approved and would also be supporting the appeal process.
Following mass exoduses in 2001 and 2004, the latest wave of Montagnards fleeing into Ratanakkiri province began in late 2014. An initial group of 13 were eventually granted refugee status and are currently in the Philippines awaiting assignation of a third country.
The vast majority have either been forcibly repatriated to Vietnam, are still awaiting their fate in Phnom Penh or have been controversially returned “voluntarily” with the help of the UNHCR.
That claim has been refuted by some Montagnards, who say they were told they had no choice and later reported persecution and surveillance upon their return to Vietnam.
About 50 Montagnards fled to Thailand from Phnom Penh in March, where they stand a far lesser chance of being sent back to Vietnam.