A senior Interior Ministry official said yesterday that 172 Montagnards from Vietnam will be sent back to their country by Cambodian authorities after interviews with them revealed they do not meet all refugee status requirements.
Sok Phal, director-general of the Immigration Department, said that among 179 Montagnards who applied for asylum in Cambodia, only seven have been granted refugee status for a third country.
“For the Montagnards who are not eligible for refugee status, they will be sent back to their home country. When they return, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees also knows that they will not be imprisoned,” he said.
“They will go back to live with their families. I do not believe they will be imprisoned because that cannot be hidden from the international community.”
The Montagnards fled Vietnam after being subjected to years of persistent religious and political persecution, according to an earlier report by Human Right Watch.
Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, confirmed yesterday that seven Montagnard asylum seekers had been granted refugee status and left Cambodia last Friday.
“Seven Montagnards who were recognised as refugees departed Cambodia last Friday for another country,” she said via email.
“At the highest level, UNHCR has been advocating with the Cambodian government that another 29 Montagnards with strong asylum claims be allowed to depart for a third country. We are awaiting a response.”
Seoung Sen Karona, a human rights monitor for Adhoc, said he fears the Montagnards who fled to Cambodia due to persecution will face harsher treatment upon their return to Vietnam.
“If the Montagnards are sent back to their homeland, the Cambodian government should afterwards check whether they have been protected, have freedom, rights and security, and ensure they have no problems with Vietnamese authorities,” he said.