Hoping to revive a Montagnard repatriation deal that appears dead, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has agreed to meet with Cambodia and Vietnam, though no date has been set yet for the talks, state media in Vietnam reported Wednesday.
Hanoi has asked for discussions with senior UNHCR officials. The agency halted the return of Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia after only 15 chose to voluntarily go back to Vietnam’s Central Highlands late last month.
This breakdown came after Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities said all of the Montagnards would have to return to Vietnam by April 30—a move that has been condemned by observers and called an “erosion” of the repatriation deal agreed to by the three sides on Jan 21.
UNHCR officials in Phnom Penh could not be contacted Thursday for comment on the meeting, which Vietnamese media reported was agreed to at a regional meeting on human trafficking held in Indonesia Wednesday and Thursday.
Some Phnom Penh diplomats say the UNHCR should first meet with Cambodia—which is a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees—before going into talks with Vietnam, which has not signed the convention.
More than 1,000 Montagnards remain under UNHCR protection after fleeing the Central Highlands last year. Even as attempts are being made to return the asylum seekers, new arrivals continue to trickle into the UNHCR camp in Ratanakkiri province, authorities said.