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)