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Viet Nam, Cambodia to further cooperate with the UN over Montagnard tribespeople

Viet Nam, Cambodia to further cooperate with the UN over Montagnard tribespeople

A Montagnard family in Cambodia
Viet Nam, Cambodia and the United Nations refugee agency have agreed to further cooperate to resolve the situation of Montagnards who cross the border into Cambodia, after holding their first full meeting to discuss the issue since signing a joint agreement last year.

“It was very useful to sit down together and look at how we can practically continue the good cooperation we've developed over the last eighteen months on trying to resolve this issue,” said Hasim Utkan, the Bangkok-based regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Under the terms of the January 2005 agreement, Montagnards who had arrived in Cambodia and were recognized as refugees could either be resettled to a third country or returned to Viet Nam, which has guaranteed they would not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted for illegal departure.

Out of an original group of 750 Montagnards, 561 have been resettled in third countries – mainly the United States – 163 have returned to Viet Nam, and 26 remain in Cambodia. Some 237 Montagnards who arrived after the 2005 agreement are currently staying in Phnom Penh.

Participants at Monday’s meeting in the Cambodian capital agreed that UNHCR would continue monitoring returnees to Viet Nam’s Central Highlands. The refugee agency has so far carried out 12 monitoring missions and visited 115 returnees, some of them more than twice. UNHCR says it has no serious concerns about the conditions of the returnees.

The parties also decided to speed up the voluntary repatriation process, as well as joint missions by UNHCR and the Cambodian authorities to retrieve Montagnard asylum seekers in border areas.

Viet Nam reiterated that Montagnards who wish to join their families in the United States can leave directly, noting that it has issued 435 passports to Montagnards to help accelerate their departure.