Vietnam has agreed to issue travel documents for a Montagnard asylum seeker whose claims were rejected by the Cambodian government, an immigration official said yesterday, all but ensuring the man’s forcible deportation to the country he fled.
Uk Hai Sela, immigration investigations chief at the Interior Ministry, said representatives from the Vietnamese Embassy on Monday met and questioned the man, who is of Ede ethnicity – one of several Montagnard, or “mountain people”, groups from Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Hai Sela, however, maintained the man was simply “Vietnamese”.
“He will be deported to Vietnam soon. Maybe today or tomorrow the Vietnamese Embassy will give the travel document,” he said.
When asked about concerns of forcibly returning an asylum seeker to the country he fled fearing persecution, Hai Sela responded: “I cannot deport a refugee; I am deporting an illegal immigrant from Cambodia who came without a passport.”
Interior Minister Sar Kheng told reporters on Monday that the refugee claims of 33 Montagnards had been rejected, throwing doubt on the still-uncertain fate of 38 asylum seekers in Cambodia, although he said he was waiting on an official report and a potential “compromise”.
It remained unclear yesterday if such a compromise referred to UNHCR’s request to relocate 36 of the Montagnards to a safe third country, which the government has so far ignored and which Kheng did not address on Monday.
“There is no hesitation [to grant asylum], but in fact, [experts] have interviewed them – and the experts have not reported to me yet – but they have interviewed them and the [Montagnards] failed for refugee status,” Kheng said.
Sister Denise Coghlan, of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said while 33 claims had indeed been initially rejected, “the process of appeal is ongoing”.
“In my view, many of them have suffered years of imprisonment and torture and they deserve refugee status,” she said.
UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan said the body had not received word from the government on whether they would facilitate the transfer of the 36.
Multiple officials at the Ministry of Interior’s Refugee Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday and Monday either could not be reached, or hung up on