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More Montagnards opt to return home

A Montagnard asylum seeker talks about his life in Vietnam earlier this year on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after fleeing across the Vietnam-Cambodia border into Ratanakkiri province.
A Montagnard asylum seeker talks about his life in Vietnam earlier this year on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after fleeing across the Vietnam-Cambodia border into Ratanakkiri province. Hong Menea

More Montagnards opt to return home

More Montagnard asylum seekers are planning to return to home amid cuts in United Nations-provided food rations.

Vivian Tan, regional spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said more than 10 indigenous Christian Montagnards had requested assistance in returning to Vietnam.

She said the group had decided to return having travelled to Cambodia “under the mistaken impression that they could get help with land issues back home”.

Over the past year, hundreds of Montagnards have fled to Cambodia citing religious and political persecution. While 13 have been given refugee status, many have been deported, and hundreds have been left in limbo in Phnom Penh as the government refuses to register their claims.

The latest group is the fourth to seek help from the UNHCR in returning to Vietnam ahead of a government-imposed deadline of February 6, when those remaining in the country will be deported.

“As with the previous three groups, we will facilitate their voluntary return, but do not yet have a date,” Tan said.

UNHCR said it has received assurances from the Vietnamese government that those returning home will not be mistreated.

Tan said almost 200 Montagnards remained unregistered in Phnom Penh as of yesterday, while the agency was still pursuing resettlement options for the 13 refugees.

A source close to the Montagnard asylum seekers said that conditions have worsened over the past month, with NGO and UN support dropping.

“An [NGO] and the UN used to help them [the Montagnards], but now they have reduced some supplies such as food,” he said, adding that allocations of rice had been halved.

The asylum seekers “are worried now because they don’t dare to go out to look for work, so they don’t have any jobs or income” to buy food.

Tan yesterday acknowledged that there had been a drop in UN-provided food rations.

“It’s true that some assistance has been reduced due to budget constraints,” she said.

She added that NGO assistance has also declined.

Sister Denise Coghlan, director of Jesuit Refugee Service, which works closely with refugees and asylum seekers in Cambodia, could not be reached yesterday.

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