Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Montagnard numbers swell in Phnom Penh

Montagnard numbers swell in Phnom Penh

Eighteen ethnic Montagnards from Vietnam pose for a photo in Ratanakkiri province
Eighteen ethnic Montagnards from Vietnam pose for a photo in Ratanakkiri province earlier this year after they fled to Cambodia to escape political persecution. ADHOC

Montagnard numbers swell in Phnom Penh

More Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam arrived in Phnom Penh over the weekend, bringing the number waiting to apply for refugee status to 109, according to the United Nations.

Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said the Montagnards – an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands – were “awaiting registration” by the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Department.

Since October, well over 100 Montagnards have fled to the Kingdom, citing religious and political persecution.

Dozens have been deported without due process and, so far, just 13 have been granted provisional refugee status with plans to resettle them in a third country. Last month, the Post revealed that almost 1,000 troops had been deployed along the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri province in the hope of stopping more arrivals.

But the extreme measures have done nothing to abate the influx of asylum seekers.

When asked if any action would be taken against the unregistered Montagnards, Ouk Hay Seyla, head of investigation at the General Immigration Department, yesterday said: “All foreigners will be arrested and deported when they do not have any documents.

“If they know only the Vietnamese language and have only Vietnamese ID, without any legal documents … there is no proof to show that they are Montagnards, not just Vietnamese,” he added.

Hul Sarith, chief of the Refugee Department’s registration office, said he had not received any order to register the asylum seekers.

In a speech last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong defended the government’s inaction, arguing that if it allowed the Montagnards access to its refugee procedures, the numbers pouring in would spiral out of control.

“If we just received them when they enter Cambodia in terms of them being Montagnard refugees, from 500,000 to 1 million Vietnamese could enter,” he said.

Namhong’s remarks came just days before the first refugees to accept resettlement under Cambodia’s controversial deal with Australia arrived in the Kingdom.

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