UN Rejects 126 Montagnard Asylum Requests

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has rejected the asylum claims of 126 of 770 Montag­nards under the organization’s pro­­­tection in Phnom Penh, the UNHCR’s country representative said Thursday.

Thamrongsak Meechubot said that 296 Montagnards housed in UN facilities in Phnom Penh have been granted refugee status, while 333 are still waiting to have their claims assessed. The remainder, who have been denied refugee status, now fall outside the UNHCR’s mandate, he said. “We don’t know what they want to do, and we are not interested in what they want to do,” Meechubot said.

Amid government interviewing of the Montagnards on Wednes­day, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak warned that those who are not resettled in a third coun­try will be sent back to Viet­nam. Though some of those recognized as refugees want to leave for a third country, many want to re­main here, though their d­e­­­cisions change daily, Meechu­bot said.

It will be up to the Cam­bo­­­­dian gov­ernment to decide whe­­ther re­fugees will be allowed to stay, he said. “A state isn’t obliged to keep re­­fugees in the country if it has serious implications for po­lit­i­cal se­curity,” Meechubot said, ad­ding that the government be­lieves the Mon­tagnards’ presence here has serious political im­pli­cations for Viet­nam.

On Thursday, Khieu Sopheak re­­ferred questions about whether Viet­nam would be dangerous for re­­turning Montagnards to the Viet­­namese authorities.

The Vietnamese Embassy de­nies that Montagnards are persecuted in the Central Highlands, de­­­­­­spite more than 2,000 having fled the region for Cambodia since 2001. US-based Human Rights Watch voiced concern Thurs­day about the safety of Mon­tagnards for­­ci­bly returned to Viet­nam, even if they were not facing per­secution when they left. “Some of them may face the real possibility of ar­rest and imprisonment” for fleeing to Cambodia, the official said.

Rights Watch has documented more than 180 Montagnards re­ceiv­ing jail sentences of be­tween three and 13 years since Feb 2001 for demonstrating against land confiscation, religious activities or fleeing to Cambodia.


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