UN to Airlift Montagnards to Phnom Penh

Ratanakkiri province – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to airlift to Phnom Penh the 181 Montagnard asylum-seekers who have emerged from hiding in jungles here over the past week, Cathy Shin, a UNHCR protection and field officer, said on Friday.

The UNHCR has already begun arrangements for the mass transfer that could start as soon as Sunday or Monday, Shin said.

“We have already started to try and charter planes,” Shin said at a former restaurant in the provincial capital of Banlung, where the 181 are being housed.

However, staff from the local office of the human rights group Adhoc said on Friday that another group of 14 asylum-seekers are still hiding in the province, Shin added. Adhoc has asked provincial authorities to allow the UNHCR access to the group, she said.

The group of 181 asylum-seekers to come out of hiding since July 16 comprises 28 females and 153 males, according to UNHCR figures. Thirty members of the group are under 18 years old, including six children that are under five years old.

Of the total, the UNHCR has registered 13 family groupings. Six minors, aged between 15 years and 18 years, are unaccompanied by adults.

At the former restaurant on Friday, the mood was positive and noisy.

The children, wearing new clothes donated by UNHCR, played inside the restaurant’s large dining area while mothers, also wearing newly donated clothes, gathered in small groups, feeding their infant children.

Two young children and one adult remained in Ratanakkiri Referral Hospital, said Dr Gary Jacques, executive director of the Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE, and physician assistant, Rithy Chau both of whom traveled to Banlung this week to offer medical treatment to asylum seekers.

Two men are also being treated at the UNHCR site for possible malaria.

“Thankfully everyone is moving in the right direction,” Jacques said.

© 2004 – 2013, All rights reserved.