Subscribe Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM defends closure of refugee safehouse

PM defends closure of refugee safehouse

PM defends closure of refugee safehouse

Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended the government’s decision to shutter a United Nations-administered refugee centre next month, denying that Vietnamese Montagnards housed at the site will face persecution if they are returned to their home country.

In a January 14 letter addressed to six US congressmen, a copy of which was obtained Tuesday, Hun Sen said Cambodia had already extended its “full cooperation” in the resettlement of Montagnards, under a 2005 agreement with Vietnam and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The Montagnards failing to gain refugee status and repatriated to Vietnam have been reintegrated into society without any oppression or persecution. They have also been given support under the development projects implemented by the Vietnamese local authorities,” he wrote.

“Furthermore, since Vietnam is now at peace and has neither internal conflict not persecution against Montagnards, there is no reason for more Montagnards to seek asylum in Cambodia.”

Hun Sen wrote that the 2005 MoU had originally been designed to process the 750 Montagnards then seeking asylum in the country, but that “many more cases” had since been dealt with.

Last month, the government announced that the centre, in Sen Sok district, would be closed by January 1, warning that newly-arrived Montagnards at the site would be deported to Vietnam. The deadline was eventually extended to February 15 following a request from UNHCR.

Six US congressmen wrote to Hun Sen on December 22, expressing concern over the planned closure of the site.

Since 2001, about 2,000 Montagnards – as Vietnam’s highland ethnic minorities are known – have fled to Cambodia due to official crackdowns inside Vietnam. Last month, Human Rights Watch stated that Montagnards continue to face persecution at the hands of Vietnamese authorities.

“Montagnards continue to face arrest and imprisonment in Vietnam, primarily for belonging to independent Christian house churches that the government alleges are using religion to forward a political agenda,” HRW stated. The group estimated that approximately 300 Montagnard Christians were now serving prison sentences for their religious or political beliefs.

The centre contained 76 Montagnards when the closure was announced, 62 of which were registered refugees qualified for resettlement in third countries. The status of the remaining 14 is not clear.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment Tuesday, though he has said previously that any Montagnards who have not been granted refugee status by the February 15 deadline will be repatriated.

Denise Coughlan, director of Jesuit Refugee Services, said UNHCR officials are now working closely with one foreign government to speed up the resettlement of recognised refugees ahead of the deadline.

She said she was “happy” to see the centre closed, describing it as a “detention centre”, but called for all future Montagnard asylum seekers to have their claims heard fairly.

“What is really important is that the process of those seeking asylum is upheld, and that the Cambodian government will treat any future Montagnard asylum seekers the same way as any other asylum seekers,” she said.

Cambodia is one of only two countries in Southeast Asia to have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Thy Sovantha threatens new suit

    Social media celebrity and card-carrying CPP member Thy Sovantha yesterday said she will file a lawsuit against wildlife NGO head Suwanna Gauntlett alleging discrimination after the latter allegedly denied her access to an ecotourism program the group is launching today in Koh Kong province. The

  • Police raid Siem Reap party, arrest 10 foreigners over ‘pornographic’ images

    A group of 10 foreign tourists appeared in court today after being arrested for producing “pornographic” photos in Siem Reap town on Thursday, while dozens more were detained temporarily and let go after being lectured on their behaviour, according to authorities. A report posted to the

  • Hun Sen’s in-law removed from RCAF after cockfighting rings raided

    Thai Phany, the nephew-in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen who is accused of running two large cockfighting rings, has been removed as a general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. Phany, formerly a one-star brigadier general, was removed by royal decree on December 19, according to

  • Government approves plan to relocate Phnom Penh’s airport

    The government has signed off on a proposal to build a new airport to serve Phnom Penh and has earmarked land in Kandal province for the $1.5 billion project. A new international airport to replace the existing Phnom Penh International Airport will be constructed on partially