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Calls for government to register Montagnards

Human rights groups yesterday slammed the government’s refusal to consider asylum applications for Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam, calling for the immediate registration of a group of 40 currently in Phnom Penh.

The statement by Human Rights Watch and Licadho came after the Post confirmed this week that nearly 1,000 troops deployed across the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri had been ordered to stop Montagnards fleeing reported religious and political persecution in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

The authorities’ refusal to register asylum claims of about 100 asylum seekers since January, as well as the deportation of 54 back to Vietnam, were labelled a “dismal failing to abide by international refugee law”.

“The government should ensure that the country is open to asylum seekers from Vietnam, and that they are allowed to register so that they can receive a fair and independent determination of their claims of persecution,” director of Licadho Naly Pilorge said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday maintained the department was unaware of Montagnards in Phnom Penh.

Asked whether Cambodia was failing in its responsibility under international refugee laws, he said: “If they come to Cambodia without proper papers they are illegal immigrants … we are doing the same as other countries.”

Sopheak hung up before he could be asked further questions about the troop deployment, which a soldier on the border told the Post was requested by the Vietnamese government.

However, government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said the soldiers were there to protect Cambodia’s interests and sovereignty.

According Licadho and HRW some of the Montagnards in the capital had presented themselves at the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Department, while others were told they would not be allowed to register at the department.

Among the group are six children including a 15-month-old baby, the groups said.

In March, the government granted provisional refugee status to 13 Montagnards who were escorted to Phnom Penh by the UN.

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Representative in Cambodia Wan-hea Lee said the UN was continuing discussions with authorities to help the new group.

“Denying them that access is contrary to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and Cambodia’s domestic asylum legislation,” she said.

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