As authorities reportedly continued to search yesterday for a second group of Montagnards hiding in Ratanakkiri province, speculation grew that more would arrive in the coming weeks.
Sev Lyn, chief of Pak Nhai commune’s Lom village, said police were searching the area for 18 Jarai Montagnards – indigenous people from Vietnam’s Central Highlands – and were under orders from Vietnam to deport the group.
A villager who asked to remain anonymous said five of the Montagnards who entered the Kingdom on Saturday had been mistreated in Vietnam over their Christian beliefs.
“They wanted to build a church . . . but the authorities did not agree. They were arrested, detained and threatened,” he said.
However, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it had been unable to “verify any of the reports and has no immediate plan to travel to the reported area”.
“If there are additional individuals seeking to make asylum claims in Cambodia, we hope they will be allowed to do so,” said UNHCR regional press officer Vivian Tan.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was in touch with authorities in Ratannakkiri yesterday, “trying to establish the facts and . . . determine what future steps to take”.
Authorities said further action would be unnecessary.
Ming Sineath, information officer at Ratanakkiri Provincial Hall, said there were “no Montagnards” in the province, while Chuob Vananarak, O’Yadav distirct police chief, said door-to-door searches reported in Lom village were just an effort to “collect data on ethnic villagers”.
Reports of Montagnards in the province came just days after a group of 13 others, who spent more than seven weeks in hiding, were allowed safe passage to Phnom Penh to process asylum claims.
Sourn Butmao, acting director of the Minority Rights Organization, said he expects that “more Montagnards will come in [the] following weeks”.
Analyst Ou Virak – formerly of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights – also predicted that more Montagnards will arrive, but said he “would not expect a huge influx”.
“Vietnam will do more to . . . prevent people from leaving,” he said, explaining that an exodus would be a “PR nightmare”.
Asked whether it would be hard for Cambodia to deport Montagnards just days after others were allowed to file claims, Virak said: “If it’s beginning to be a sign of a potential influx . . . they will do it in a heartbeat”.