Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Montagnards viewed as test

Montagnards viewed as test

Long Visalo (centre), secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaks about the Australian refugee deal this year in Phnom Penh
Long Visalo (centre), secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaks about the Australian refugee deal this year in Phnom Penh. Human Rights Watch says that if Montagnards in Cambodia are repatriated, it could violate Cambodia’s international obligations. Heng Chivoan

Montagnards viewed as test

As Cambodia faces increasing scrutiny over its controversial refugee agreement with Australia, its response to a group of Montagnards seeking asylum from alleged persecution in Vietnam could prove to be a crucial test.

An ethnic Jarai villager, who asked not to be named, told the Post on Monday that 13 Montagnards are hiding in a forest in Ratanakkiri province. “A few of them were already jailed for between one and two months in Vietnam,” he said, explaining that the group had been persecuted over their Christian beliefs before fleeing to the Kingdom. “They are hiding in the forest in fear of arrest by the Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities.”

The villager added that more than 10 police officials and security guards have been searching the area since Thursday.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said that while Montagnards are discriminated against in Vietnam, Cambodia too has “an extremely poor record” of protecting them and “has repeatedly caved in to Hanoi’s demands to forcibly return” them.

Robertson said that if the authorities catch the group, it is likely that they would be repatriated. But, he said, following Cambodia’s widely criticised deal to resettle refugees processed in Australian detention centres on the island of Nauru, pressure should be on the two countries to ensure their protection.

Australian Ambassador Alison Burrows should “move quickly to stop any refoulement of the Montangards that will further damage Cambodia’s already shoddy record of protecting refugees”, Robertson said.

The Australian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that Australia would in fact favour deportation of the group.

“What Australia’s looking for is a country that’s not going to protect the refugees.… [It hopes] that they will be sent to a state that will never protect them,” he said.

Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Nguon Kourn said yesterday evening that, on the orders of the Ministry of Interior, his officials were still searching for the group.

“After finding them, we will ask the ministry what we should do,” he said.

Ministry officials could not be reached.

Vivian Tan, press officer for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok, said that “UNHCR advocates that they should not be sent back to a place where their lives or freedoms could be in danger, and will cooperate closely with the Cambodian Government to ensure that those in need of international protection receive it”.

MOST VIEWED

  • US imposes sanctions on Oknha Pheap and Kun Kim

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed strong dismay on Monday over the designation of Cambodian tycoon Oknha Try Pheap and General Kun Kim under the US’ Global Magnitsky Act. “It is very disturbing when the public figures of a country become the

  • Mother, daughter killed in hotel fire

    The bodies of a mother and daughter were found locked in an embrace after they were killed in a hotel fire in Phnom Penh at around 3:30am on Wednesday at the Phkar Chhouk Tep 2 Hotel and Restaurant in Phsar Doeum Kor commune, in the capital’

  • EBA withdrawal a destruction of EU achievements, PM says

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the EU’s possible suspension of its Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement amounted to a destruction of its achievements in the Kingdom and the demise of the opposition group. Hun Sen made the remarks while addressing more than 6,700 students during

  • Rights Day forum denied in Sihanoukville

    The Preah Sihanouk provincial administration last Saturday denied the request of land communities for a public location in the province to celebrate International Human Rights Day 2019 as the administration had already held forums to discuss land issues. However, the land community representatives said they would

  • Kingdom calls on Japan to increase number of direct flights to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

    Cambodia is requesting Japan to increase the number of direct flights from Japanese cities and provinces to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, so as to contribute to increasing cooperation and tourist numbers between the two countries. During the opening ceremony of 3rd Japan Travel Fair

  • Sri Lanka’s LOLC Holdings plans to sell Cambodian unit

    LOLC Holdings Plc, Sri Lanka’s second-largest publicly traded company by revenue, plans to sell its 70 per cent stake in Prasac Microfinance Institution Ltd, which also counts Hong Kong’s Bank of East Asia Ltd. as a shareholder, LOLC deputy chairman Ishara Nanayakkara said. Nanayakkara