UN Reports Asylum-Seekers Short of Food

Fifty-one Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in the forests of Ra­tanakkiri province and trying to reach the UN refugee agency are suffering food shortages, an Ad­hoc monitor said Wednesday.

The shortage is also affecting sym­­pathetic villagers who are smuggling food to the asylum-seek­­ers, and who have little to eat themselves, Pen Bonnar said.

“The people are worried about food, because they have to give food to refugees, but the people are very poor,” he said.

Two groups of Montagnard asylum-seekers are hiding in O’Ya-daw district, while two more groups are in Lum­­phat and O’Chum districts, Pen Bon­nar said.

“They only want to ask the [UN High Commissioner for Refu­gees] to come and help them,” he said. “If the authorities see them, they think they will send them to Viet­­nam.”

The UNHCR wrote to the Min­is­try of Foreign Affairs last week ask­­­ing for permission to visit Ra­ta­nak­kiri to assess the Mon­tag­nards’ asy­­­lum claims, Tham­rong­sak Mee­­chubot, UNHCR country rep­re­sentative, said Wednesday.

“We are waiting for them to give us an answer,” Meechubot said.

One government official who re­quested anonymity said Long Vi­sa­lo, secretary of state at the Min­is­try of Foreign Affairs, re­turned from Viet­nam on Wednes­day after dis­­cus­sing the situation with Vietnam­ese officials.

Long Vi­sa­lo de­clined to comment on the re­­ported visit, referring all ques­­tions to Na­tional Police Com­mis­sion­er Hok Lundy, whose phone was not work­ing.

On Jan 1, Hok Lundy or­dered that Ratanak­kiri provincial police re­cruit hundreds of new officers to prevent asy­­lum-seekers from cros­sing from Vietnam into Cam­bodia.

Hok Lundy added that nine po­lice checkpoints guarding the border would receive two motorbikes each from the Vietnamese government, as well as unspecified funding from the National Police.

“The authorities have to convince the local people to be our spies in order to report how many Mon­tagnards [enter Cambodia] to arrest them and send them back to Vietnam,” Hok Lundy said, according to an audio-recording of his meeting with local authorities in the provincial capital of Banlung.

(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)

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