Appearing confused but happy, two dozen ethnic Vietnamese minorities who likely are to be given asylum in the US were examined in a city medical clinic Tuesday, as US officials took over resettlement processing.
The group has been granted refugee status by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees but must be approved by US immigration officials.
Under the guard of about a dozen military police officers, the group was brought to the International SOS Clinic in a covered military jeep and given routine medical exams, a clinic official said. Two groups of 12, most wearing surplus US Army jackets given to them by the US Embassy here, waited quietly to file into the clinic during their first public appearance since being arrested in Mondolkiri late last month.
Afterward, they left in the same jeep, looking less apprehensive and talking with each other. One or two flashed a thumbs-up sign through the grated window at the back of the jeep as they were driven off.
US Embassy officials said processing the group could take several days, though Ambassador Kent Wiedemann on Monday called the remaining immigration operations “formalities.”
The group have been in Cambodian custody since their arrests after fleeing political unrest in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
While it first appeared they would be sent back to Vietnam, Prime Minister Hun Sen last week declared they would be sent to a third country, shortly before the US agreed to accept the 24. The move has sparked an increasingly aggressive push by the Vietnamese to have the group repatriated. Vietnamese authorities have accused the US of interfering in Cambodia’s affairs, saying the US is trying to destabilize the region by encouraging a refugee crisis on the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.
Diplomatic officials here have speculated that the US’s agreement to accept the group will cause more hill tribe members to flee to Cambodia in hopes of getting asylum to the US or elsewhere.
(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse)