The UN and donors will push asylum in Cambodia as the best option for Montagnards seeking refuge here from unrest in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, said Jahanshah Assadi, regional representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The strong push is for Cambodia to grant these people some sort of temporary asylum,” Assadi said Tuesday following a meeting with Phnom Penh diplomats.
“We’re not really looking at third-country resettlement right now,” he said.
At least 24 Montagnards have been resettled in the US since ethnic hill tribe members from Vietnam began crossing the border into Cambodia earlier this year and asking for asylum.
While a diplomatic official said Monday several countries are still willing to take refugees, a trend has emerged in recent weeks for keeping refugees in Cambodia.
Assadi is expected to meet Thursday with Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and to travel Friday to Mondolkiri province, where approximately 160 Montagnards are camped, waiting for the completion of talks between the government and the UNHCR.
Though it remained unclear how the government will deal with the asylum seekers, National Police General-Director Hok Lundy reassured UNHCR officials Tuesday that the Montagnards would be safe, Assadi said.
But despite earlier assurances from Hok Lundy, a family of seven Montagnards disappeared last week and were reportedly deported to Vietnam. And authorities in Mondolkiri attempted to detain several other UN-protected asylum seekers over the weekend.
But British Ambassador Stephen Bridges said Assadi was told by Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh that they are aware of possible misconduct by authorities in Mondolkiri.
“It is hopeful the government is going to rectify that soon. They are moving in the right direction and…the government expressed an intention to get it right. We’ll wait and see,” Bridges said.
Bridges said Tuesday’s meeting was only a briefing, and that no policy statements would be made by either the UNHCR or the embassies.