UN Grants Refugee Status to VN Detainees

The 24 ethnic Viet­namese min­orities in Cambodian custody have been granted ref­ugee status by the UN, according to a US Em­bassy statement released Mon­day, but an embassy official said this doesn’t guarantee passage to the US.

On Monday representatives of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees finished questioning the group and told US officials they are all refugees and should be referred to the US for resettlement. US officials will have their first contact with the 24 today, as they begin interviews to determine whether the group’s members, who were arrested in Cam­bodia after fleeing unrest in Viet­nam’s Central Highlands, qualify for resettlement.

“They need to qualify under US im­migration laws; there are medical questions and other types of things they go through,” the diplomat said. [The UNHCR decision] “was an important step, but there still has to be a decision by [the US] Immigration and Natur­alization Services.”

If for some reason any of the group is rejected by the US, “they remain UNHCR wards to do with what it likes. The UNHCR has to make a determination whether to look for another third country, keep them in Cambodia or repatriate them,” the diplomat said.

John Farvolden, UNHCR’s acting director, would not comment Monday, only saying that the UNHCR’s work with the 24 was mostly finished.

The 24, arrested late last month in Mondolkiri pro­vince, have become the focus of increasingly hostile complaints by the Viet­namese government, which has demanded their re­turn.

“These people are not ref­ugees, they are illegal border crossers,” Vietnamese Am­bas­sa­dor Nguyen Duy Hung said Mon­day. “Of course we will talk with UNHCR and ask them on what basis they consider them refugees.”

Nguyen Duy Hung questioned why the US made the announcement. “The US is trying to politicize this issue, if they continue this they will destabilize the situation on the border as they encourage more people to flee,” he said.

Farvolden said UNHCR had received information about more border crossings, but that information has not panned out. Cambodian authorities reported earlier the 24 had told them of at least 1,000 more potential ref­ugees hiding in Mondolkiri.

A foreign medical worker based in the provincial capital of Senmonorom said Monday that hill tribes in that area are aware of the US’s decision to offer resettlement to the 24, but this has not yet caused any visible movement of large numbers of people.


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