Countries Consider Asylum for Montagnards

Several foreign countries are considering offering resettlement to Montagnard asylum-seekers who have fled to Cambodia in recent months from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, an official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday.

Though the US has resettled almost all Montagnard asylum-seekers who began fleeing to Cambodia in the aftermath of a police crackdown in 2001, a number of other countries have expressed a willingness to help with resettlement, said Ralf Gruenert, UNHCR first officer on mission to Phnom Penh, on Tuesday.

“Not just the USA. There are several countries which have indicated they may be willing to resettle [Montagnards],” Gruenert said.

Though the initial response appears positive, Gruenert declined to reveal the names of those countries as discussions were still in the early stages.

Screening of the latest influx of Montagnards is going “full swing” in Phnom Penh, said Gruenert, adding that it was too early to forecast when the screening process would be finished or when resettlement might begin. He also welcomed the government’s extension of an earlier one-month time limit for the UNHCR to complete the resettlement of all Montagnards who fled to Cambodia.

In three UNHCR operations launched in Ratanakkiri province since Friday, 58 Montagnards have been escorted out of their hiding places by UNHCR staff. A total of 352 Montagnards are currently in Cambodia, having fled what they said is widespread confiscation of their ancestral land and repression of their Protestant religion.

UNHCR staff in Ratanakkiri are currently awaiting further information on reports of more asylum-seekers still hiding in the province, including a group of 30 believed to be hiding in a contested border region between RatanakkiriÕs Andong Meas district and Vietnam’s Gai Lai province.

A planned trek by UNHCR staff to reach the group of 30 was postponed Monday following provincial police fears that the international organization may be accused of entering territory claimed by Vietnam to help the asylum-seekers.

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