Montagnard asylum seekers protest their possible deportation outside the UNHCR center in Phnom Penh, July 18
Scores of Montagnards from Vietnam’s Central Highlands protested July 18 outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees center in Phnom Penh where they are being processed for possible resettlement in a third country.
After 28 of their fellow asylum-seekers were returned to Vietnam, some 60 to 100 Montagnard protesters poured out of two neighboring compounds and gathered in the street for several hours before police and UN officials coaxed them back inside.
The Montagnards held up homemade signs and pumped their hands in the air as they chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” according to witnesses.
At one point, a protester stepped forward from the crowd and addressed the police in Khmer, saying, “Cambodians, Montagnards, we are the same people. We are brothers and sisters. Vietnam takes the lands of the ethnic people.”
“Some were angry, some were weeping,” said a human rights worker who did not want to be identified.
According to the rights worker, one of the asylum seekers fled a compound on the night of July 17 but was arrested and beaten by police before being deported early the next day.
Since a 2001 crackdown by Vietnamese authorities on religious freedoms in the Central Highlands, thousands of Montagnards have fled to Cambodia seeking asylum. More than 1,000 were eventually sent to the United States, but many are returned to Vietnam, where rights groups say they face further repression, including imprisonment.
Although their numbers are now fewer, some Montagnards still find their way to Phnom Penh and are taken in by UNHCR, which has come under criticism by Montagnard advocates for failing to adequately protect those seeking refuge. Officials at UNHCR could not be reached.