More Montagnard asylum seekers prepared to return to Vietnam yesterday after giving up on obtaining refugee status in Phnom Penh, while five Rohingya refugees set off for resettlement in Canada.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said 17 Montagnards had “embarked on their return from Phnom Penh” and were due to arrive in Vietnam today.
She added that the asylum seekers had “requested and obtained assistance” from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The group is the latest to voluntarily return home ahead of a government-imposed deadline that would see them deported if they remain in the country after February 6.
Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said the motivations for the repatriation varied. “Some of them miss their family a lot, [and] some of them probably did not have a very strong case,” she said.
Coghlan added that the opportunity to return with assistance from UNHCR – which has received assurances from Vietnam that returnees will not be mistreated – was better than the alternative of being forced back.
UNHCR is “going to check on how they’re received back there and double check on the people who went back before,” she said.
Over the past year, hundreds of Montagnards – a predominantly Christian minority group from Vietnam’s central highlands – have fled to Cambodia citing religious and political persecution.
So far, just 13 have been registered as refugees, while dozens have been deported and many more left in limbo in Phnom Penh as the government refuses to register their claims.
Coghlan said 199 Montagnard refugees and asylum seekers remain in Cambodia.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached yesterday, while UNHCR did not respond to requests for comment.
As the 17 Montagnards set off on their return, a group of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar left the Kingdom.
“Five Rohingyas have left for Canada . . . They applied for private sponsorship and they’ve been accepted,” said Coghlan.
Speaking to the Post last year, one of the group, a roti seller who arrived in 2010, spoke of his struggle for basic rights and his dream of finding a new home.
“How can I think about the future when I have to think about where my food will come from next? I want to find a better life,” he said.
Additional reporting by Phak Seangly