UN Asked to Close Offices In Provinces

The UN High Commission for Refugees has been asked by Cambodian foreign affairs officials to close its offices in Mon­dolkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces, where for the last year it has overseen two camps for Mon­tagnard ref­ugees who have crossed over from Vietnam’s Central High­lands.

Officials close to the situation said the government fears the UNHCR’s presence would en­courage more Montagnards to flee Vietnam.

But officials say the agency is waiting for a written request from the government to leave the provinces and will make a decision then. UNHCR staff remain in both provinces.

Foreign Minister Hor Nam­hong maintained last week that any Montagnards caught inside Cambodia will be treated as illegal immigrants and deported, despite claims by human rights groups that Cambodia is obligated by in­ternational refugee conventions to continue offering asylum to possible refugees.

He said earlier that the Mon­tagnards were only using their flight to Cambodia as a way to get to the US, which in the last year resettled at least 38 hill tribe members.

Some 905 Mon­tagnards are cur­rently being pro­cessed in Phnom Penh for resettlement in the US. All of those were part of a yearlong exodus from the Cen­tral High­lands, where Mon­tagnards say religious persecution and land-grabbing persists.

“The situation is worse than before,” one Montagnard said as he was being trucked from Mon­dolkiri to Phnom Penh.

Others have reportedly crossed into Cambodia in recent weeks, though police have not confirmed their presence and observers warn they will likely be deported if caught.

Provincial police Chief Reach Samnang said, “We do have police and soldiers along the border to protect the entrance from Vietnamese Montagnards,” following a government directive to seal Cambodia off from future asylum seekers.

He said it was also the government’s policy—and not a decision of the local police—to shutter the UNHCR’s offices in Mondolkiri, where the agency’s camp was looted and burned shortly after being evacuated last month.

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