Young Montagnard’s First Flight Is to Safety

Banlung, Ratanakkiri province – Rahlan Dan took her first journey by airplane on Wednesday.

The air-conditioned plane cabin’s contrast with her most recent accommodations could have not been more stark.

The 8-year-old and her family had hid for weeks in the jungles of Ratanakkiri province after fleeing Vietnam’s Central Highlands in late June.

On Wednesday she peeped out the airplane’s window as the twin-propeller craft gained speed and took off from Banlung airport and flew over the same jungle, en route to Phnom Penh with 37 other Montagnard asylum-seekers.

“When I was in the jungle I was very scared. Now I am not frightened anymore,” she said shortly before takeoff.

Asked how she felt about her impending flight, she said: “I think I will like flying in the airplane.”

Her 35-year-old father was also facing his first flight. But his main preoccupation was thanking those who had helped his family emerge from the jungle.

“Thank you everybody for bringing myself and my family to Banlung. Now we are OK. But when we were in the jungle we faced many difficulties. We are very happy to be here,” he said.

On Monday, the first 31 asylum-seekers were flown to Phnom Penh. They were housed at a UN High Commissioner for Refugees reception center in the Meanchey district, where all 198 asylum-seekers who emerged in the past two weeks in Ratanakkiri will have their asylum claims determined.

All the asylum-seekers are scheduled to leave Ratanakkiri by either Saturday or Monday, said Cathy Shin, UNHCR protection and field officer, on Wednesday.

“So far we have calculated for Saturday,” Shin said. Royal Palace Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Kong Sam Ol visited the UNHCR site in Phnom Penh on Wednesday and distributed rice, food stuffs, blankets and cash to the asylum-seekers on behalf of King Norodom Sihanouk.

The Royal Palace Minister will greet each group of asylum-seekers that arrives at the site with the same donations from the King, Shin said.

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