Dozens of Montagnard asylum seekers who left the jungles of Ratanakkiri province yesterday morning in a bid to reach Phnom Penh and possible UN help have not been heard from since, according to a rights activist and members of a local community that was assisting them.
Chhay Thy, a provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said last night that there had been no communication with the 36 Montagnards since they departed in an overcrowded van yesterday morning from O’Yadav district, raising fears that they have been arrested.
“The 36 includes three females. One ethnic Jarai villager was guiding the way, but we have lost contact with them. We are concerned about their safety on the way,” Thy said yesterday evening.
UN officials that requested anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the media said the group had not been met in Phnom Penh.
But senior police officials in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces said they had made no arrests of Montagnards.
Nine Montagnards reportedly seeking asylum in the Kingdom have been deported this month back to Vietnam by authorities in what rights groups say is a violation of international law.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday insisted that anyone claiming to be a Montagnard in Ratanakkiri was telling a lie. He said they were illegal immigrants.
“There are no Montagnards [asylum seekers in Cambodia]. Thousands of them were taken by the US in 2000 and 2001.… Do not believe that. If they existed, the US would” give them asylum, he said. “[There will be] no refugee camp in Cambodia.”
But Thy of Adhoc implored the government to at least interview those claiming asylum before deporting them.
Montagnards, a mostly Christian ethnic minority, face religious and political persecution in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch.