As more Montagnard asylum seekers here face deportation to Vietnam this month, a US Congressman has written to the US State Department expressing concern over the conditions they will face on their return home.
In a letter to the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration dated Aug 25, Democratic Congressman from North Carolina Bradley Miller said he was concerned about the situation facing Montagnard refugees from Vietnam who have fled to Cambodia seeking protection from persecution and now face deportation.
Monitoring missions by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the PRM to assess the conditions of those who have been deported from Cambodia back to Vietnam “still do not have unobstructed, unannounced and in-depth access to the Central Highlands region,” Miller wrote.
Miller also stated he was troubled by “the lack of clarity regarding the number of Montagnards who remain in long-term detention [in Vietnam].”
According to the letter, “there were concerns that in the past seven years, ethnic Montagnards have been arrested solely on account of their religious identity or association.”
“A full accounting of Montagnard prisoners, and the unconditional release of those imprisoned based on their religion, should be a part of any future US-Vietnam human rights dialogues in order to dispel fears of faith-based persecution,” Miller wrote.
UNHCR Protection officer Toshitsuki Kawaochi denied that the agency was having problems getting access to Montagnards who had been returned to Vietnam.
According to Kawaochi, the 2005 memorandum of understanding between Vietnam, Cambodia and the UNHCR that stipulated no returned refugees would be punished for attempting to seek asylum in Cambodia was being respected by Vietnam.
“As far as we are aware, [the memorandum] has been observed,” he said.
With regard to Miller’s claim about the number of Montagnards being imprisoned in Vietnam, Kawaochi said the UNHCR mandate was limited only to protecting refugees who have left their country of origin.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal confirmed that deportations of Montagnards rejected from the asylum process were due through September, but he would not specify when they would take place or how many people would be deported.
Vietnam Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said he was too busy to speak to a reporter when contacted Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)