sen monorom district, Mondolkiri province – The UN said moving some 320 Montagnard asylum seekers camped outside the provincial capital to Phnom Penh won’t be considered, despite requests made Monday by a visiting delegation of US-based Montagnard rights advocates.
Indrika Ratwatte, senior regional liaison officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who is in Phnom Penh, said he had not heard of the request. But he said moving the Montagnards has not been discussed by the UNHCR and “is not an option.”
The request was made during a phone call Monday morning by Kay Reibold, director of the Vietnam Highlands Assistance Project, to US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann. Reibold said she cited serious concerns about the safety of the camp in the conversation, which she described as “long and positive.”
Wiedemann said Monday afternoon that the US embassy is just as concerned about the Montagnards’ safety as the delegation. He said efforts to make sure the Cambodian government ensures security have worked “quite well.”
“We don’t see any reason for moving them,” he said. “Unless I hear the situation requires it, I don’t see any reason to change.”
The US embassy provided transport for the delegation, but is not connected with its work in Mondolkiri.
Another delegation member said the camp is under frequent surveillance by Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities. Set on a hillside outside of Sen Monorom, the camp is isolated and exposed on all sides, but no problems have occurred between the Montagnards and local residents.
When first opened, the camp was visited frequently by police officials and curious sightseers. But even visits by the odd onlooker have tapered off as the camp has become part of everyday life in Sen Monorom, said James Kovar, team leader for the UNHCR in Mondolkiri province.
Kovar said dismantling the camp would be impossible because it would remove UNHCR support for future Montagnard arrivals. There is now an established and reliable route between Vietnam’s Dak Lak province and Mondolkiri, he said.
During its three days in the camp, the delegation has sometimes clashed with the UNHCR, which is negotiating a repatriation plan with Vietnam. The UNHCR plans to meet with Cambodian and Vietnamese officials in Hanoi July 26 and 27 to discuss the issue.
The delegation has stated clearly that repatriation was not an option for the approximately 400 Montagnards now under UNHCR protection in Mondolkiri and neighboring Ratanakkiri province. Delegation members have repeatedly said Vietnam would not honor any agreement made with the UNHCR, thereby making a safe return impossible.
Instead, the delegation has pushed for resettlement in the US as a solution for Montagnard asylum seekers, going so far as saying US-based church groups were willing to sponsor all Montagnards under UNHCR care. They also said US congressional pressure could be brought to bear on the situation.
The US has a long relationship with the Montagnard community, going back to the early 1960s when the US enlisted the help of hill tribes to fight communist Vietnamese forces.