UNHCR at Loss Over Montagnards’ Refusal

The refusal by Montagnard asylum-seekers of overseas resettlement is an unprecedented event for the UN High Commis­sioner of Refugees, a spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday.

The UNHCR has “no immediate solution” to the problem posed by more than 100 asylum-seekers who do not want to be resettled or return to Vietnam, said Jennifer Pagonis, deputy head of public information for the agency’s Geneva headquarters.

A situation in which refugees decline resettlement is unusual for her organization, Pa­gonis said. “It is highly unusual,” she said, adding that although the UNHCR was committed to finding a solution, staff have so far been unable to identify a past scenario which could be used as a reference point.

Thamrongsak Meechubot, officer in charge of the UNHCR in Cambodia, said Thursday that government officials had begun on Wednesday to interview the 553 Montagnards at UNHCR sites in Phnom Penh, and that no action would be taken until they had finished.“We have to wait and see what the government decides to do,” he said. He had been told “local integration is not an option,” he added.

Last week, the UNHCR issued a statement reporting that a significant number of the asylum-seekers had entered Cambodia under the false impression that the agency could help them reclaim confiscated land in Vietnam.

More than 100 asylum-seekers later said that they wanted stay in Cambodia.

In addition, UNHCR officials have said that 13 Mon­tagnards seeking passage back to Vietnam already slipped away from one agency sites.

Long Visalo, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Af­fairs, said Wednesday he was un­aware that any Mon­tagnards had left UNHCR protection.

Nguyen Thanh Duc, Vietnam­ese Embassy press attache, said the 13 had not contacted the embassy, and that the returning asylum-seekers would not receive any assistance from Vietnam.

(Report­ing by Phann Ana, Chris­topher St John and Kevin Doyle)

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