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UN Denounces Deportation of Montagnards

Donald Lee and Nov Sivutha / Khmer Times Share:
Montagnard hill tribesmen ride in the back of a truck after emerging from dense forest in Cambodia’s northeastern province of Ratanakiri. Photo: Reuters/Adrees Latif

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The United Nations says the Cambodian government violated international law in its deportation back to Vietnam of more than 40 asylum seekers hiding in the forests of Ratanakiri province.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Wan-Hea Lee told Khmer Times the expulsion is a “clear violation of both the Refugee Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, both of which are binding upon Cambodia.”

Missing Montagnards Deported

The UN also confirms that the 36 Montagnards who went missing last week are among those deported. These families had boarded a truck bound for Phnom Penh from their forest hideouts in Ratanakiri province.

OHCHR Spokesperson Lee also said her organization believes Ratanakiri provincial authorities acted alone in deciding to deport the asylum seekers. She accused the Interior Ministry of not giving any “instructions” to follow proper protocols and procedures to have the asylum seekers transported to Phnom Penh to have their refugee claims processed. 

OHCHR Spokeperson Wan-Hea Lee told Khmer Times: “On the issue of the Montagnards, OHCHR has not had willing partners [with Ministry officials], which has led to the refoulement [expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognized as refugees] of over 40 individuals over the past few days.” 

“The UN cannot speculate on the reasons why instructions were not transmitted from the central to local authorities, or at what level of government the decision was taken to refoule these individuals,” she added. 

Passage Blocked, Locals Deny Deportation

UN officials traveling to meet asylum seekers in the remote O’Yadaw district of Ratanakiri province were turned back last week after meeting hostile provincial authorities blocking passage to the forest where the refugees are reportedly said to be hiding. The same situation occurred last year, when the UN was repeatedly blocked by provincial officials in its attempts to help an earlier group of Montagnard asylum seekers.

Moeng Sinath, the Ratanakiri province spokesman, denied any knowledge of Montagnards being deported back to Vietnam. “I don’t know if they have been deported or not,” said Mr. Sinath. “I haven’t received any information yet.”

Mr. Sinath insisted that there are no Montagnards in Ratanakiri province seeking asylum. “There is only illegal immigration of Vietnamese people into Cambodia,” he said. “I am so surprised they are being called Montagnards.”

But Mr. Sinath added that the provincial authorities were willing to cooperate with the UNHCR in finding the Vietnamese refugees, but only with the condition that the UN provide proof from the Ministry of Interior that the people in question were in fact Montagnards. 

OHCHR Not Informed

An OHCHR spokesperson denied receiving any such messages of cooperation.

“OHCHR has not been informed of the new willingness of provincial authorities to cooperate with the UN. We would welcome it, even at this late stage. 

We are ready to return to Ratanakiri at any moment,” said the spokesperson.

Cambodia has seen a growth in the number of Montagnards crossing the border since last October. Many are still hiding in Ratanakiri while 13 are currently in Phnom Penh having their asylum applications processed by the Ministry of the Interior. Another 10 have made it to Phnom Penh are starting the asylum process.

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