Staffers from the US House of Representatives met Monday with officials for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh for an “exchange of ideas” on the issue of Montagnards fleeing to Cambodia from unrest in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, UNHCR officer-in-charge John Farvolden said.
A three-member delegation led by Joseph Rees, counsel for the House’s International Relations Committee, were in Cambodia for two days as part of a regional visit, a US Embassy official said.
Since the influx of Montagnards began earlier this year, the US has taken the lead in dealing with potential refugees. It was after talks with US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann that Prime Minister Hun Sen prohibited deportations of Montagnards seeking UNHCR assistance.
At least 24 Montagnards have been resettled in the US but that country has joined others in the diplomatic community in letting the UNHCR negotiate another solution.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people outside the [US] government pushing for third country resettlement, but at this time the thing to do is buck up UNHCR,” the US Embassy official said. “This government…is not keen on third country resettlement.”
More than 200 Montagnards are currently under UNHCR care in Cambodia, though “voluntary repatriation” remains the goal of both UNHCR and the Cambodian government, Farvolden said. Talks with Cambodian officials are ongoing, he said, following UNHCR Regional Representative Jahanshah Assadi’s visit last week to Hanoi.
Five members of the US House of Representatives weighed in on the Montagnard issue in a May 23 letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying that US officials are “concerned” about the status of Montagnards fleeing Vietnam and the deportation of some of these asylum seekers after they have been detained by Cambodian authorities.
Dozens have reportedly been returned to Vietnam, though these forced repatriations appear to have decreased.