The UN refugee agency prepared to make another trip to the northeast jungles on Monday as a human rights worker reported that nearly 60 Montagnard asylum-seekers are hiding in Ratanakkiri province.
Fifteen more Montagnards, including two children and five women, crossed the border from Vietnam in the past few days and are now hiding in Ratanakkiri, said Meas Khlemsa, a monitor with the local rights group Adhoc.
“We do not know much about their health condition,” he said Monday. “I received the information from villagers who met them in the jungle a few days ago.”
Adhoc passed the information to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has collected 282 asylum-seekers from Ratanakkiri in the past few months. The 15 join 44 other asylum-seekers that Adhoc says have been hiding in the province for several weeks.
The UNHCR has proposed a “joint mission” with the government to investigate the latest asylum-seeker reports, and plans to hear back from the government “anytime,” Thamrongsak Meechubot, the UNHCR’s country representative, said Monday.
UNHCR staff traveled to Mondolkiri province last week to seek permission from provincial authorities to access a remote area of Ratanakkiri that is effectively controlled by Mondolkiri authorities.
A small group of Montagnards are believed to be hiding in an area near O’leave river post, where two journalists and an Adhoc human rights worker were detained in July while escorting 17 asylum-seekers to Banlung, Ratanakkiri’s capital. The group was traveling along the Sre Pok River, which splits Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri, when RCAF soldiers on the Mondolkiri side of the river detained them.
The UNHCR is waiting to hear back from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before traveling to either Ratanakkiri or Mondolkiri.
“There is no definitive plan on logistics yet,” Meechubot said Monday about the proposed trip.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the government will not prevent the UNHCR from searching for asylum-seekers.
He also reiterated that the Montagnards’ plight is not the fault of Cambodia and can only be solved within Vietnam.
“The long term solution is to deal with the roots of the tree, not the branches,” Khieu Sopheak said. “The Montagnard problem will not be solved in Cambodia.”