Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) chairman Arash Bordbar wrote an open letter to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, urging the government to “safeguard the rights of all refugees inside its borders”.
In the letter that was posted on Monday on APRRN’s website, Bordbar particularly called for the protection of the “long-persecuted” Montagnard ethnic group, which comprises Christian minorities hailing from Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Bordbar said most of the Montagnards “face severe persecution in their home country of Vietnam”.
He said that returning Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia back to Vietnam would “place them in serious violations of their fundamental human rights by the Vietnamese government”.
By repatriating Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam, Bordbar continued, “Cambodia undermined its commitment to national and international laws to protect the basic right of refugees”.
He was referring to the likes of Sub-Decree No 224/2009 on Procedure for Recognition as a Refugee or Providing Asylum Rights to Foreigners in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The sub-decree stipulates that a refugee “shall not be expelled or returned in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his or her life, freedom or rights would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or particular political opinion”.
Moreover, Bordbar also reiterated that “Cambodia is a party to both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the United Nations Convention Against Torture”.
Under these conventions, the Kingdom has “clear legal obligations not to return individuals to countries where they may be at risk of persecution or torture”.
“We encourage Cambodia to adhere to their obligations,” the letter reads.
Four Montagnard asylum seekers were reportedly repatriated to Vietnam in mid-June, said the network.
Bordbar wrote: “This action created significant anxiety and fear among others in the Montagnard community that they too could be forced to return.”
Human rights observers reportedly said that the Montagnards faced all types of persecution, including “intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention and restrictions on practising their religion, while some refugees who were sent to Vietnam from Cambodia have disappeared without any traces”.
On why Cambodia repatriated the Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam, government spokesperson Phay Siphan said “the Kingdom did not interfere with other countries’ internal affairs”.
He reiterated that the Montagnards used to live in the mountainous areas and “were used by the US to fight against Vietnam’s communist government”.
Siphan also suggested that they did not seek asylum in other countries due to economic and freedom restrictions, but rather because they were used as “political pawns in the US foreign policy”.
“Cambodia’s laws prohibit interference with the internal affairs of other countries, and the refugees are the responsibility for the UN,” he told The Post on Wednesday.
Last year, a group of Montagnard refugees were reportedly granted asylum status by the US. They travelled across Cambodia to reach Thailand.
About 12,000 Montagnards live in the southern state of North Carolina in the US, the report said.
In March last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Montagnards did not exist in Cambodia.
“We respect all minorities such as Jarai, Steang, Phnong, but we have never had Montagnards,” the prime minister said before supporters in Australia.
The APRRN is a network of 400 civil society organisations and individuals from 29 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees across the region.