As Refugee Group Appeals to Gov’t, Montagnard Fears Future

A refugee rights network has appealed directly to Interior Minister Sar Kheng to not send 36 Montagnard refugees back to Vietnam, as one of the group on Tuesday spoke of his increasing fear of being returned to the country where he spent a decade in jail for protesting.

In the letter to Mr. Kheng, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), made up of more than 300 civil society organizations and individuals from 28 countries, said the Cambodian government must ensure the protection of the asylum-seekers.

H’ Bliu Nie, left, and her husband, Y Rin Kpa, speak about their fears of returning to persecution and imprisonment in Vietnam at a cafe in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (George Wright/The Cambodia Daily)

“APRRN urges the Royal Cambodian Government to protect the right of the remaining 36 Montagnards seeking asylum in its borders and ensure that they are not sent back to Vietnam,” said the letter, which was dated August 28.

“APRRN is alarmed by recent reports that Cambodia is failing to ensure the protection of the Montagnards by backtracking on an agreement to ensure their safe passage to a third country,” it added.

The statement comes amid a period of intense uncertainty for the 36 Montagnards who remain in their U.N.-funded accommodation in Phnom Penh and are awaiting appeal decisions after their asylum applications were denied.

Interviewed in a cafe in Phnom Penh on Tuesday after leaving his police-guarded accommodation, Y Rin Kpa, 47, spoke of his fears of returning to the country where he was jailed for 10 years over his role in a 2001 demonstration against the government.

“Police called me back and they always photographed me. They’d kick the door and take me away when my children were babies,” Mr. Rin Kpa answered when asked why he fled to Cambodia in 2015.

“The Vietnam government will not stop doing that. Now I’m very worried that they will deport me to Vietnam, very afraid,” he said.

Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities had “coerced” his daughter in Vietnam into penning a letter to him calling for him to return to Vietnam, he added.

Speaking with his wife, H’ Bliu Nie, at his side in the cafe in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune, Mr. Rin Kpa then produced two documents, one entitled “The Negative Refugee Status Determination” from the Interior Ministry—a rejection of his asylum application—and another in Vietnamese that he said was confirmation of his 10-year prison term in Vietnam.

The asylum rejection document states that “the events you described to us during your interview do not demonstrate that you have faced, or will face, treatment as severe to amount to persecution.”

It also said there was no evidence that he had been persecuted due to his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions.

Following mass exoduses in 2001 and 2004, the latest wave of Montagnards fleeing into Ratanakkiri province began in late 2014. An initial group of 13 were eventually granted refugee status and are currently in the Philippines awaiting assignation of a third country, while a further three were given the all-clear in May.

More than 200 others have been forcibly repatriated to Vietnam, are still awaiting

their fate in Phnom Penh or have been controversially returned “voluntarily” with the help of the U.N.’s refugee agency.

“APRRN calls on the Ministry of the Interior to cooperate fully with UNHCR in ensuring safe passage for the 36 remaining asylum-seekers to seek refugee protection in a third country,” the letter to Mr. Kheng said.

Khieu Sopheak, the ministry’s spokesman, said he was too busy to discuss the issue on Tuesday.

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