The Cambodian government is set to return a group of Montagnard refugees to Vietnam today after rejecting their claims for asylum, the UN refugee agency has confirmed.
The 13 are part of the more than 200 Montagnards – a mostly Christian minority from Vietnam’s central highlands – who fled to Cambodia in 2014 and 2015. Only a handful now remain in Phnom Penh.
“UNHCR will facilitate the return of these rejected asylum-seekers to Viet Nam on a voluntary basis – as we have done for more than 120 Montagnard asylum-seekers since July 2015,” said spokesperson Vivian Tan in an email. “In general, we do not intervene with asylum cases unless we disagree with the decisions.”
The Cambodian government granted refugee status to an initial 13 Montagnards, who were sent to the Philippines, but since then authorities have deemed three to be refugees.
A further 50 Montagnards fled Cambodia for Thailand in April. Since then, Montagnards have been returned “voluntarily” in small groups to Vietnam.
However, Grace Bui, of the Montagnard Assistance Project, questioned whether they were truly “volunteers”.
“We heard from a couple of them before – they are being watched 24 hours, they can’t go anywhere,” Bui said, adding that others had been arrested.
“I thought the UN was going to fight for them, but I guess not,” Bui said.