A group of Montagnard asylum seekers were returned to Vietnam on Tuesday after most had their applications for refugee status rejected, government officials said yesterday.
Refugee department director Tan Sovichea said 16 Montagnards – an ethnic mountain minority who are predominantly Christian – were sent back Vietnam through Ratanakkiri province. “They all volunteered to go back to their homeland,” he said.
The government denied the requests for refugee status for 15 of the Montagnards, including a family of seven. One – who withdraw his application before it was ruled on – elected to leave. “We cannot grant them refugee status because they do not reach the criteria of the UN Refugee Convention,” Sovichea said.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Vivian Tan confirmed the organisation facilitated the return to Vietnam.
“[W]e certainly plan to visit them, as we did with last year’s returnees,” Tan said. “The Vietnamese authorities have provided assurances that there will be no punishment for illegally leaving the territory and that UNHCR will be able to conduct monitoring visits.”
According to the UNHCR and Sister Denise Coghlan from the Jesuit Refugee Services, more than 170 Montagnards remain in Phnom Penh, with some still yet to have their refugee status interview.
Hundreds of Montagnards fled across the border seeking asylum last year. In May, 13 found to be refugees were moved to the Philippines.