Dear Minister Sar Kheng,
I am writing to you from the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), a network of more than 300 civil society organisations and individuals from 28 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees across the Asia Pacific region.
As a network committed to refugee rights protection, APRRN urges the Royal Cambodian Government to protect the right of the remaining 36 Montagnards seeking asylum in its borders and ensure that they are not sent back to Vietnam. APRRN is alarmed by recent reports that Cambodia is failing to ensure the protection of the Montagnards by backtracking on an agreement to ensure their safe passage to a third country. These concerns come after repeated deportations of Montagnard asylum-seekers by Cambodian authorities over the past two years, calling into question Cambodia’s commitment to respecting its own laws and international law.
The risks of return for Montagnards who have fled Vietnam are well-documented. In a 2015 report titled “Persecuting ‘Evil Way’ Religion”, Human Rights Watch reported intimidation, arbitrary arrest and mistreatment in custody of Montagnards by Vietnamese authorities on account of their religion and political opinion. The risk for those who flee abroad is heightened by threats of prosecution under Article 91 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, which criminalises those who “flee abroad or defect to stay overseas with a view to opposing the people’s administration”, or other extralegal means of punishment.
APRRN notes reports of mistreatment of those returned to Vietnam, including surveillance, interrogations, beatings and forced disappearances. APRRN is also concerned that previous attempts at ensuring the security of Montagnards returned to the Central Highlands have run contrary to international law and did not afford adequate protection.
Cambodia’s Sub-Decree No. 224/2009 on Procedure for Recognition as a Refugee or Providing Asylum Rights to Foreigners in the Kingdom of Cambodia, provides that a refugee “shall not be expelled or returned in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his or her life, freedom or rights would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or particular political opinion”. Cambodia is also party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture.
Under both international treaties, Cambodia has an obligation not to return individuals that might be subject to persecution or torture.
APRRN calls on the Ministry of the Interior to cooperate fully with UNHCR in ensuring safe passage for the 36 remaining asylum-seekers to seek refugee protection in a third country.
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN).
The undersigned organisations, which include members of APRRN, endorse this statement: BPSOS (Falls Church, VA, USA), BurmaLink (Mae Sot, Thailand), Christian Action (Hong Kong SAR), Human Rights Watch (New York, NY, USA), INHURED International (Kathmandu, Nepal), Migrant Forum in Asia (Quezon City, Philippines), Montagnard Human Rights Organization (North Carolina, USA), Multicultural Learning and Support Services (Wellington, New Zealand), Odhikar (Dhaka, Bangladesh), Philomene Franssen (University Academic, Singapore), Refugee Council of Australia (Sydney, Australia), Refugees as Survivors (Auckland, New Zealand), Rights in Exile (Oxford, United Kingdom), Society for Threatened Peoples (Goettingen, Germany), South Asian Network for Refugees, IDPs and Migrants (Colombo, Sri Lanka), Taiwan Association for Human Rights (Taipei, Taiwan).