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Gov’t now says aware of Montagnard arrivals

After weeks of denying any knowledge of the dozens of Montagnard asylum seekers waiting in Phnom Penh to register their claims, an immigration official yesterday admitted that the government was well aware of the new arrivals.

Hul Sarith, chief of the General Department of Immigration’s registration office, said the UN had informed the department of the influx of asylum seekers from Vietnam.

“We got the information from the UN about them through the phone. [We know] there are some more now, but nothing has been carried out,” he said, referring to the government’s failure to register the Montagnards – an indigenous peoples from Vietnam’s Central Highlands – and process their claims.

On Wednesday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told the Post that there were 67 Montagnards awaiting registration. Some have been waiting since January.

Sarith declined to give any reason yesterday for his department’s inaction, only repeating that the claims had not yet been processed before hanging up the phone.

Montagnards fleeing alleged religious and political persecution first began entering Cambodia in October. Since then dozens have been arrested and deported, while just 13 have had their claims processed.

The 13 were all granted refugee status in March with the intention of resettling them in a third country.

But Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for UNHCR, said this week that no countries had yet been found that would take them in.

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