UN team finally meets Montagnard refugees in Cambodia

After more than a month hiding in jungle, Christian refugees to have asylum claims processed

UN team finally meets Montagnard refugees in Cambodia

A United Nations team made contact with 13 Vietnamese Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia on Saturday, the organization said.

The group had been hiding in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia after fleeing Vietnam amid fears Cambodian authorities would return them across the border they crossed more than a month ago.

The UN had said there was reason to believe the Montagnards, a Christian minority, would be in danger if returned to Vietnam and that they were in an “extremely precarious” situation, with many suffering from malaria or dengue fever.

The UN team had previously accused the Cambodian police of blocking its efforts to meet the refugees.

Wan-Hea Lee, who represents the UN’s human rights agency in Cambodia, told The Anadolu Agency: "The UN team received an anonymous call informing that the eight wished to present themselves to the UN.

"Following directions, the UN team met them and brought them into town this morning. They will be brought to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning.

"The UN team subsequently received another call about the other five Montagnards and tried to meet with them. The five men are now with the UN team, which will also bring them to Phnom Penh tomorrow. All will apply for asylum once in Phnom Penh."

Montagnards, a French term for the ethnic minority groups living in the central highlands, have been crossing the Cambodian border in greater numbers since 2001 when protests for greater religious freedom and land rights led to a government crackdown and repression.

They were converted to Christianity by French and American missionaries during the colonial period. Also known as the Degar, many fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

While hundreds have been resettled in third countries, many have also been deported by Cambodia back to Vietnam, where they can face severe prison sentences.

Shortly after the most recent group arrived, the Vietnamese government requested their arrest and deportation while the Cambodian Interior Ministry and local police have publicly referred to them as "illegal immigrants."

The 13, who are members of the Jarai minority, have been hiding out in remote Ratanakiri province, aided by Cambodian villagers who are also ethnic Jarai.

The Phnom Penh Post reported they had been hiding out in two separate groups. The first group reportedly met the UN after a Montagnard woman discovered the delegation was nearby.

"Among eight of them, one is a woman who knew that the UN team was traveling to get them," human rights worker Chhay Thy told the newspaper. “They ran out to ask help from the UN in Nonghay village.”

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Aralık 2014, 23:49
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