UN High Commissioner for Refugees staff and government officials on Tuesday and Wednesday collected 54 Montagnard asylum-seekers from Ratanakkiri province, a UNHCR official said.
Forty-five Montagnards were collected in O’Yadaw district Tuesday, while an additional nine were picked up on Wednesday in Bokeo distict, UNHCR spokeswoman Deborah Backus said Wednesday.
The group of 31 men, 12 women and 11 children are currently hous-ed in the provincial capital Banlung, Backus said.
“They’re all in the site now. They’ve cleaned up and had showers,” Backus said, adding that the asylum-seekers have been visited by a doctor and are generally in good health.
Backus said some of the 54, particularly women, have stated that they have relatives or spouses who have previously fled Vietnam’s Central Highlands and subsequently been resettled in the US.
Twenty-seven of the group are expected to fly to Phnom Penh on Friday, while the others are scheduled to go on Sunday and Monday.
In a statement last week, the UNHCR said it was concerned that Cambodian nationals pretending to be Montagnards from Vietnam have been paying people who may be involved in trafficking to transport them to Phnom Penh as would-be asylum seekers. In some cases, several hundred dollars were paid to people who took the Cambodians to the UNHCR, Backus said.
Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, said that if the 54 receive refugee status, they will not be allowed to stay in Cambodia.
“We still have the same position that Cambodia won’t be a safety place for them,” he said. “We cannot accept them as refugees, working and doing business in Cambodia in this difficult time,” he said.
But he added that Cambodian officials cooperated with the UNHCR in collecting the Montagnards, and that Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.