The UN refugee agency will travel near the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri province today to search for about 30 Montagnards, the first of about 90 asylum-seekers believed to be hiding in the province’s thick jungles.
UNHCR officials met with Ratanakkiri authorities Monday and received “full cooperation” in their search, said Chung Ravuth, a field officer with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
This is the UNHCR’s third trip to search for Montagnard asylum-seekers in the past three months, a sign that once-strained relations between the UN agency and the government have improved considerably. Though it took weeks of media reports detailing the plight of hungry and sick asylum-seekers before the government allowed the UNHCR to make its first trip to Ratanakkiri in July, subsequent requests to travel to the province have been granted in a timely manner.
On its first two trips, the UNHCR collected 282 Montagnards and brought them to Phnom Penh to assess their asylum claims. This time, the UNHCR has information that 91 Montagnards are hiding in three separate Ratanakkiri locations, Chung Ravuth said.
UNHCR officials plan to travel to O’Yadaw district today, and then to Andong Meas and Lumphat districts, where other groups are reportedly hiding.
Despite the UNHCR’s presence, Ratanakkiri villagers continue to report that Vietnamese police are searching the jungles so they can arrest and deport Montagnards, said Pen Bonnar, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator.
Five Montagnards were arrested and deported Saturday near O’Yadaw’s Pok Touch village, Pen Bonnar said.
Hor Ang, Ratanakkiri’s deputy police chief, said he had not heard of the arrests.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng was attending a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City with his Vietnamese counterpart Monday to “discuss and cooperate” on ridding the border area of “crime and illegal immigration,” said Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry.
“We did not talk about the Montagnards” at the meeting, he said.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)
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