A large number of Montagnard asylum-seekers under protection by the UN refugee agency are requesting to stay in Cambodia, and more may be pressured into refusing resettlement, an official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees official said
Some 110 Montagnards who have refused resettlement to the US, say they don’t want to leave the country, Cathy Shin, UNHCR protection and field officer said Wednesday. “They don’t want to go back to Vietnam,” she said, adding they don’t want to go to a third country either.
Shin said “at least eight” of the more than 500 Montagnards staying at UNHCR sites in Phnom Penh apparently have been urging others to remain in Cambodia. Last week, the UNHCR issued a statement saying it was concerned that an increasing number of Montagnard asylum-seekers were entering Cambodia from Vietnam, believing that the agency could help them reclaim confiscated land. The statement added that many had wanted to return to Vietnam when they were informed the UNHCR could not help them with their land issues.
UNHCR officials said earlier this week that 13 Montagnards had already left one of the agency’s four sites in Phnom Penh within the last two months, seeking to return to Vietnam.
The whereabouts of those 13 Montagnards, however, were unknown Wednesday.
Shin said the UNHCR had contacted the government when the group wanted to leave Phnom Penh. But in the end, she said: “They just left [the site without being escorted to the border]… The government told us they went.”
Long Visalo, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is dealing with the Montagnard issue on behalf of the ministry, said Wednesday he was not aware that any Montagnards had left the UNHCR site for Vietnam. He also did not know what would happen to the Montagnards who refused to leave the country. “I do not know. I do not want to respond,” he said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday that the Montagnards may be allowed to stay as long as they “belong to a peaceful group.”
Long Visalo declined to comment on Khieu Kanharith’s statement, saying only that the government and the UNHCR were waiting to finish interviewing all of the Montagnards under the agency’s protection.
“Let’s wait to see how many do not want to go to the US and want to return back to Vietnam. I can tell information after the interviews are finished,” he said.
The UNHCR has reported that it currently has 553 Montagnards under its protection in Cambodia, of which 441 were collected during field trips in Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces.