Asia Concerns mount for Vietnamese asylum seekers in Cambodia

Concerns mount for Vietnamese asylum seekers in Cambodia

 A group of Montagnards are seen after they emerged from a dense forest some 70 km (44 miles) northeast of Ban Lung, located in Cambodia's northeastern province of Ratanakiri, on July 22, 2004
A group of Montagnards are seen after they emerged from a dense forest some 70 km (44 miles) northeast of Ban Lung, located in Cambodia’s northeastern province of Ratanakiri

 (AA) – Fears are mounting among rights groups that at least 40 Vietnamese people from an ethnic minority previously recognized by the Cambodian government as “persecuted” could soon be repatriated.

In a statement released Friday, Licadho and Human Rights Watch expressed concern that even though Cambodia in March recognized 13 ethnic and minority asylum seekers from Vietnam, it will now refuse to offer refuge to 40 others who have since sought asylum.

The groups said that by granting the initial group “asylum seeker” status, the government acknowledges claims of persecution.

A statement from the two said that since January 2015 Cambodia has refused to register as asylum seekers or to assess the claims for refugee status of around 100 other members of the Jarai and Montagnard ethnic minorities.

“Of these asylum seekers, 54 have been summarily deported by Cambodian police and authorities in Ratanakiri province, into which they had come from Vietnam,” it said.

“Others have been told they will not even be allowed to present themselves for possible registration. Six of them are children, one a 15-month-old baby.”

Hostility against Vietnamese crossing the border into Cambodia has been mounting.

On April 29, Immigration chief General Sok Phal referred to them as “illegal immigrants,” and in a report published by the Phnom Penh Post on Friday, soldiers stationed along the border were quoted as saying that their primary mandate is to stop Montagnards from crossing.

In the past, those who have managed to cross over have hidden in the jungles of Ratanakiri province, where they have also received help from local villagers.

Reached by telephone Friday, Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak told The Anadolu Agency that as a sovereign state, Cambodia has the right to handle the situation as it sees fit, particularly as it suspects criminal activity is at play.

“[T]hose people who are hiding those immigrants, I think they are involved in human trafficking,” he said, “so they should ask them to report to the authorities where they are living. If they are still hiding them, it’s a conspiracy and human trafficking that we are fighting against.

“If they were real refugees, they should report themselves upon arrival at the border; they should not come secretly or be helped by a group of people,” he added.

The concerns come amid plans for refugees detained on the South Pacific island of Nauru to be transferred to Cambodia as part of a controversial $40-million resettlement program with Australia.

Many of the refugees being held at Nauru are Muslim.

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