A group of nine Montagnard asylum seekers hiding out in Ratanakkiri province had a close brush with law enforcement officials yesterday, even as a new group of the Vietnamese ethnic minority crossed the border into Cambodia, a rights group and a villager helping the hiding families said.
Some 40 police officers in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district attempted to raid the camp of nine Montagnards who had crossed into Cambodia about two weeks ago, but the group dispersed into the forest, said the villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals.
“They hid themselves there for too long. They were seen by a villager and reported to the authorities,” the villager said, before asking “the UN to help them as soon as possible”.
A group of representatives from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights went to the province last week, but their travel was blocked by authorities and the contingent left on Friday.
OHCHR country representative Wan-Hea Lee said in an email yesterday that her office had received word of the encounter, and that the status of the asylum seekers involved “remains unclear”.
“OHCHR is aware that an intensive search for all the Montagnards is ongoing. This contradicts a fundamental premise of international human rights and humanitarian law that all persons seeking asylum, no matter their origin or their means of entry into the country from which they seek asylum, have a right to apply for it,” she added.
Souy Thay, the Lumphat district police chief, declined to comment on the situation there yesterday. District Governor Kong Srun, for his part, said that he was unaware of any run-ins between Montagnards and authorities, and declined to comment further.
Another group of seven Montagnards reportedly crossed into Ratanakkiri from Vietnam’s Gia Lai province yesterday afternoon, according to Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, bringing the total number of asylum seekers hiding in the forest to 45. If the asylum seekers applications were simply accepted, he said, “the government will lose nothing”.
Montagnards are a mostly Christian ethnic minority from Vietnam’s Central Highlands who allegedly face religious and political persecution from state authorities.