UN refugee agency voices concern over Cambodia's expulsion of Vietnamese

UN refugee agency voices concern over Cambodia's expulsion of Vietnamese

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it was "extremely concerned" about reports that some Vietnamese asylum seekers have been deported from Cambodia over recent months.

The expulsions took place as recently as a week ago, when various reports indicate that 14 Vietnamese from Montagnard tribes were sent back to their homeland, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told journalists in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency has reinforced its presence in remote Ratanakiri Province, where aid workers must travel by boat to some border areas. "We are trying to investigate the reported deportations," the spokesman said, adding that staff had been redeployed to the area from neighbouring provinces, as well as from Laos, Thailand and Geneva.

"UNHCR is very concerned that police may have deported Vietnamese who lacked proper documents, including individuals who claimed to be fleeing for political reasons," Mr. Janowski said.

In a meeting yesterday with the governor of Ratanakiri Province, UNHCR was told that the police had been given instructions not to deport any Vietnamese. Late last week, the agency's regional representative received assurances in a meeting with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng that Cambodia would honour its obligations as a signatory of the 1951 refugee convention and respect the right to asylum. UNHCR also noted that Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen had previously announced that the country would permit Vietnamese to seek asylum.

"It is vital that Cambodian officials - at all levels - implement the humanitarian approach endorsed by the prime minister and other senior officials," Mr. Janowski said. "It is unacceptable for asylum seekers to be forced back to their country of origin without a proper review of their asylum claims."