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UN envoy voices deep concern over forced deportation of ethnic minorities to Viet Nam

UN envoy voices deep concern over forced deportation of ethnic minorities to Viet Nam

A United Nations envoy today said he was "deeply concerned" by the forced deportation last week of 63 ethnic minority Montagnards from Cambodia to Viet Nam, despite the objections of staff from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Peter Leuprecht, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for human rights in Cambodia, said the refugees had crossed from Viet Nam to the Andong Meas district of Ratanakiri province at least a day before they were deported on 2 March, but provincial police denied access to UN officers on grounds that the Montagnards were "illegal immigrants."

"These deportations are in clear violation of the 1951 Convention on Refugees, to which Cambodia is a party," Mr. Leuprecht said in a statement issued in Geneva. "The 'non-refoulement' principle in this convention states that asylum seekers should not be returned to a country where they face a well-founded fear of persecution."

The Special Representative said this was not the first time that such incidents have come to his attention and expressed regret that Cambodia appeared to be in non-compliance with its obligations under the refugee treaty.

On 25 January, Viet Nam tried and convicted four Montagnard asylum seekers who were forcibly deported from Cambodia, sentencing them to up to six and a half years imprisonment for "organizing illegal migrations," Mr. Leuprecht said, adding that he was also worried by evidence of mistreatment by the Cambodian authorities.

The Special Representative said that it was the Cambodian authorities' responsibility to ensure that those responsible for these incidents were brought to account, and to ensure that UNHCR staff were allowed to carry out their work properly.

"Where repatriations do occur these must be voluntary. No asylum seeker should be mistreated or forcibly deported," he said, urging the Royal Government of Cambodia to fully uphold its international obligations on the treatment of refugees.

Meanwhile, UNHCR said talks with Cambodian and Vietnamese officials, as well as the agency’s representative for the region, will be held in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday as part of a bid to put back on track the agreement on the return to Vietnam of some 1,000 Montagnards who had fled to Cambodia a year ago.