The United Nations’ human rights agency in Geneva has urged Cambodia to abide by its obligations not to forcibly return 13 Montagnard refugees to Vietnam and to register the claims of hundreds more asylum seekers living in limbo in Phnom Penh.
The government last week announced that it had extended deadlines for leaving Cambodia for members of the predominantly Christian minority group from Vietnam’s central highlands who have crossed the border over the past year citing religious and political persecution.
In a statement on Friday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that any forced return of the 13 – who now have until January 10 to be resettled in third countries – “would constitute refoulement”.
“As a state party to the Refugee Convention and the Convention against Torture and as a country that adheres to the universal values laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Cambodia is under an obligation not to return refugees to a country where they could be subjected to serious human rights violations,” it said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday said he was confident that resettlement options would be found. When asked what would happen to the 13 if the deadline was not met, he replied: “I have no idea.”
Regarding the more than 200 unregistered asylum seekers, OHCHR said it hoped the extended deadline of February 6 for them to return home “voluntarily” or be forced back would “give the government time to reconsider their asylum requests in accordance with international standards”.
It added that the government should “in any case not refoule the asylum seekers without the individual consideration of their claims”.