The UN High Commissioner for Refugees plans to travel this week to Ratanakkiri province to collect 34 Montagnard asylum-seekers hiding in the jungle, a UNHCR official said Monday.
The government had already approved the visit to locate 28 Montagnards who have been there for more than one week, when local rights group Adhoc informed the UNHCR Monday that six more had entered Cambodia, said Inna Gladkova, UNHCR associate protection officer.
“We’ll collect the asylum-seekers,” Gladkova said, adding that the UNHCR will conduct the mission with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior. “Preparations are underway,” she said.
Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator, said Monday that the additional six adults arrived in the province on July 18. All 34 are hiding in O’Yadaw district, where they are divided into three groups, he said.
“It’s difficult for the Montagnards in the forest because it’s raining,” he added.
The UNHCR’s announcement comes less than a week after police entered a refugee facility in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, hitting some Montagnards who did not want to leave, then physically forcing them into buses before escorting 94 of them back to Vietnam.
On Thursday, James Leach, chairman of the US House of Representatives subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said the deportation was unacceptable, according to a copy of his comments made at the House and obtained Monday.
“Credible reporting by established [NGOs] has documented recent cases in which Montagnard returnees were arrested and beaten after their repatriation,” Leach said.
“The repatriation of Montagnard families in these circumstances was unacceptable, and was carried out to the discredit of the Cambodian authorities and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,” he added.
Leach reiterated his previous concerns expressed to the UNHCR that the situation “sets a dangerous precedent for refugee protection in Cambodia and elsewhere.”
On Saturday, Vietnam News reported Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung saying that the 94 “will not be punished, discriminated against or brought to court for crossing the border illegally.”
Gladkova said the UNHCR plans to check up on the 94 in Vietnam’s restive Central Highlands, although it is not legally obliged to do so.
“We’re doing it on a good officer basis,” Gladkova said.