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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No room for refugees: Kheng

A van transporting asylum-seeking Montagnards arrives at the General Department of Immigration in Phnom Penh
A van transporting asylum-seeking Montagnards arrives at the General Department of Immigration in Phnom Penh in December after travelling from Ratanakkiri province. Hong Menea

No room for refugees: Kheng

Montagnards seeking asylum in Cambodia and who are found to be fleeing persecution in Vietnam will not be allowed to stay in the Kingdom if a third country does not accept them, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said yesterday.

Speaking after opening a workshop on violence against women, Kheng said that the refugees would not be allowed to stay in Cambodia because the country “cannot set up a [refugee] camp”.

“If they are found to be refugees, with sufficient documents and evidence, we have to find a partner – a third country – to send them to. [But if a third country] will not accept them, we cannot just set up a [refugee] camp in the Kingdom,” presumably leaving deportation to Vietnam as the only available option.

Until 2011, Cambodia hosted hundreds of Montagnard refugees in a camp in the country’s northeast.

Montagnards who have fled Vietnam should not automatically be considered refugees, Kheng said.

“We will work with UNHCR and other stakeholders to seek a resolution,” he added.

Kheng did not comment on the reasons why Montagnards granted asylum would need to be housed in a camp, rather than settled in the community.

Major General Kerm Sarin, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Refugee Department, declined to comment on the progress of asylum claims put forward by 13 Montagnards who arrived in Phnom Penh in December.

“If things do not go to plan, we can delay [their processing],” he said.

In total, twenty Montagnards are currently processing asylum claims in Phnom Penh, four of whom arrived in the capital on Monday after spending more than two weeks hiding in the forest in Ratanakkiri province.

Police in Ratanakkiri continued yesterday to search the area for 23 other asylum seekers believed to be hiding there, according to local villagers and a human rights worker.

“Until now, they have been hiding in the forest in fear, but they might not be able to hide much longer, because they are running out of forest. If they are arrested, they will be deported and persecuted,” a Jarai villager, who asked to remain anonymous, said yesterday.

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