The asylum applications of all but three Montagnards in Phnom Penh have been rejected, though an appeal window remains open for the group, an official said yesterday, as the government prepares to repatriate at least four members of the ethnic minority back to Vietnam.
Yesterday’s update on the situation of Montagnards remaining in the capital, where they arrived in 2014 and 2015 to seek protection, follows news this week that almost 50 of the asylum seekers fled from Cambodia to Thailand last month in a bid to avoid being sent back to their native home in Vietnam’s central highlands, where they have long complained of political and religious persecution.
According to Grace Bui, a Bangkok-based volunteer for the US-based Montagnard Assistance Project, at least 22 of the group – who fled after the Interior Ministry began a mass round of rejections on March 20 – have arrived in the Thai capital, and seven are preparing to re-apply as asylum seekers with the United Nations.
Bui said the organisation was helping the seven prepare their paperwork. “They are all worried because they have no future but they all said it is much better than going to Vietnam,” she said.
But back in Phnom Penh, the odds of getting asylum for the remaining 96 Montagnards appear slim. Yesterday, Interior Ministry refugee department head Tan Sovichea said evaluations had been finished and all but three men had received a “negative result”.
“There is nothing more to do but wait for them to appeal,” Sovichea said. “Everything will be finalised within one month.”
For a husband and wife and their two young children whose appeal was rejected last month, the process of repatriation began yesterday morning when they were taken to an immigration detention centre near Phnom Penh airport.
Uk Hai Sela, the head of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said the family would be sent home next week after the Vietnamese Embassy signed off on the paperwork.
“They are foreigners who do not have the right to live in Cambodia,” he said.
Vivian Tan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regional spokesperson, said the agency couldn’t comment on individual cases but noted Cambodian law gave all rejected asylum seekers the right to appeal.