Immigration police are preparing to forcibly deport a Montagnard asylum seeker, who was yesterday taken away by officers from the Phnom Penh guesthouse where an estimated 38 members of the ethnic minority are now left to await their fate.
The man, an ethnic Ede in his late 30s, was collected in a van by officials from the General Department of Immigration yesterday afternoon, according to photos obtained by The Post.
Uk Hai Seila, head of investigations at the department, confirmed his team was preparing to deport the man after his appeal against a decision to reject his bid for asylum was turned down.
“He was interviewed, but failed, so my officials took him to my department to deport him after he gets a passport from the Vietnamese Embassy,” Hai Seila said, adding the case would be reported to the embassy today.
Head of the Refugee Department Tan Sokvichea declined yesterday to discuss the case.
Beginning in 2014, hundreds of Montagnards – a mostly Christian ethnic minority from Vietnam’s mountainous Central Highlands – fled to Cambodia, complaining of religious and political persecution by Vietnamese authorities.
Thirteen of the first arrivals were recognised as refugees and later sent to the Philippines. Dozens more were summarily deported or left in limbo until the Cambodian government agreed to register more than 100 as asylum seekers last year.
Only three of those registered have been granted refugee status, and the deportation will mark the first time that one of those registered has been sent back against their will.
Scores have agreed to “voluntarily” return to their homes in Vietnam’s Central Highlands with assistance from the UN after their applications were rejected, though the account of one man repatriated in a group of 13 last week called into question the voluntary nature of the arrangement.
In an email yesterday, Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said the agency “firmly believes that no refugee or asylum-seeker should be pressured to return against their will”.
Reiterating a previous comment, she explained that, though UNHCR was not usually involved with rejected asylum cases, the Montagnards in Cambodia whose refugee bids failed could choose to return with UNHCR assistance.
But, if not, “as foreigners on Cambodian soil, they will be subject to Cambodian law as defined by the Cambodian authorities”.
Sister Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia, which has been assisting the Montagnards, said she was saddened by the moves to deport the asylum seeker.
“With recent reports on the lack of religious freedom in the world, one feels very sorry for this poor man returning to a place where he believes he doesn’t have religious freedom,” Coghlan said.
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