The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed concern at an outflow of hilltribe people from Viet Nam and welcomed Cambodia's decision to grant them temporary asylum.
At a meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's Interior Minister Sar Kheng assured UNHCR's representative in the region, Jahanshah Assadi, that Cambodia would allow the Vietnamese arrivals temporary stay.
"We welcome Cambodia's commitment to the Refugee Convention," said François Fouinat, UNHCR's director for Asia and the Pacific. "We hope that the reassurance given to us today will be translated on the ground, in the remote hills where we cannot cover."
Since February, several hundred Vietnamese have arrived in Cambodia, including around 130 this week. UNHCR staff went to see the arrivals at the Cambodian border province of Mondolkiri and walked with them for 12 kilometres to safety from a remote jungle location.
"The number of people coming out of Viet Nam is small but it is worrying, and we are looking at what is causing this," Mr. Fouinat said, adding that the agency was seeking authorization from Hanoi for access to Viet Nam's central highland, where the asylum seekers originate.
UNHCR has also been looking into reports of expulsions of arrivals in Cambodia, and has brought to the attention of senior Cambodian officials several cases of alleged deportations. Mr. Fouinat said that UNHCR had assured the Government that it was fully aware of sensitivities involved, but stressed that individuals seeking refuge appeared to have compelling reasons for doing so.
He said UNHCR had assured the Government of its willingness to provide resources to meet the needs of the new arrivals and to contribute to a solution to the problem in agreement with all the parties.