UNHCR to access condition of Montagnards returning from Cambodia

29 July 2005

A United Nations refugee agency representative is scheduled to visit Viet Nam’s Central Highlands early next week to assess the condition of Montagnard tribesmen who returned home after they fled to Cambodia following a Government crackdown on protests against land confiscation and religious persecution last year.

A United Nations refugee agency representative is scheduled to visit Viet Nam’s Central Highlands early next week to assess the condition of Montagnard tribesmen who returned home after they fled to Cambodia following a Government crackdown on protests against land confiscation and religious persecution last year.

The UNHCR regional representative based in Thailand will visit the returnees, including those who returned voluntarily earlier in the year under an agreement offering them repatriation or a resettlement in a third country after Cambodia said it would not allow them to remain there.

The representative will be accompanied by a national staff member who has already made five trips to the region to monitor the well-being of the voluntary returnees and found nothing to cause disquiet, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said during a press briefing in Geneva on Friday.

She said UNHCR is aware of concerns from some human rights groups and reports in the media surrounding the voluntary return of the Montagnards, and the circumstances of the deportation of 94 rejected Montagnard asylum seekers on 20 July from Phnom Penh.

The persons returned on 20 July all had their claims to refugee status properly rejected after a thorough process of review which included a right of appeal. From UNHCR's perspective they were not refugees, Ms. Pagonis said.

In a separate development, UNHCR and the Cambodian government are scheduled to depart today on a joint mission to Ratanakiri province where a reported 34 Montagnards are said to be hiding in the jungle.

A total of 541 Montagnards are currently under UNHCR's care in Phnom Penh. Of that total 487 are recognized refugees and 42 of them have refused to resettle. Seventeen of the total have claims pending, 20 are rejected cases and 17 humanitarian cases. UNHCR said it understands that the U.S. has an interest in the humanitarian and rejected cases.

Under the repatriation and resettlement accord signed in January 2005, Viet Nam has given guarantees that the returnees will not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted. So far, 398 refugees were submitted for resettlement of which 149 have departed – 118 gone to the U.S., 8 to Canada and 23 to Finland. Forty-three people returned voluntarily to Viet Nam earlier this year.

 

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