Four United Nations workers are in Ratanakkiri province trying to make contact with
Montagnard asylum seekers believed to be hiding in the jungle.
The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) sent the four-person team
on January 27 to begin identifying asylum seekers, more than two weeks after the
UN proposed a joint delegation travel to the remote northeastern province.
The UN staffers will be accompanied by two government representatives.
Thamrongsak Meechubot, UNHCR country representative, said it could be as long as
10 days before any refugees are brought back to Phnom Penh.
"We were informed that there are 50 to 60 people in the district. It could take
some time before they all come to ask for assistance," said Meechubot.
Penn Bonnar, a Ratanakkiri-based spokesman for the human rights group Adhoc, welcomed
the news that UNHCR was coming for the Montagnards, citing concerns over the health
status of some of those hiding out in the jungle.
"It is a very important to do this quickly because it is the dry season right
now and the Montagnards lack food and water out in the forest," Bonnar said.
"It's a good thing because now there is good cooperation between UNHCR and the
Cambodian government. From what I have seen, the local authorities are very helpful
and cooperative with the UNHCR."
Despite the delay in organizing the latest mission, Meechubot said the time taken
to negotiate the trip was not unnecessarily long.
On January 25, Cambodia and Vietnam reached an agreement in Hanoi to resettle or
repatriate more than 700 asylum seekers currently being sheltered by the UNHCR in
Under the agreement, refugees can either being repatriated to Vietnam or resettled
in a third country, but will not be allowed to remain in Cambodia long term.