Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - A group of 13 members of ethnic minority Montagnards, who fled Vietnam for persecution because of their Christian faith, are reeling from malaria and hunger in Cambodia.
However, they refuse to leave the forest - albeit infested with mosquitoes carrying the parasite - for fear of being arrested and deported. The majority of them come from the Vietnamese province of Gia Lai and made a rough journey that led them, in early November, to cross the border into the Cambodian province of Ratanakiri; for weeks they have survived in the open, without a roof and scrambling every day for food to survive.
Interviewed by Radio Free Asia (RFA), the Montagnards describe
the risks taken during their flight. However, they add they
had to flee because of the constant
threats of the Vietnamese authorities. Some of them, during the trip, were discovered by Cambodian police and deported.
"The police in Gai Lai threatened to kill me," one Montagnard tells RFA on condition of anonymity emphasizing the severity of persecution faced in Vietnam, their homeland. The majority come from the provinces of the Central Highlands and is the subject of a fierce and decades of persecution, which sees them also denied the private practice of worship.
In 2001 and 2004, at least two thousand people emigrated
to Cambodia to escape the violence
of the Vietnamese authorities, who
arbitrarily confiscate land and persecute them
because of the Christian faith. Most of them got political
asylum, with the United States in
the frontline in the granting of
The UN agency for refugees (UNHRC) has announced initiatives to obtain political asylum for the Montagnards who have fled to Cambodia. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), accuses the Phnom Penh government of not defending the refugees indeed, instead of carrying out mass deportations to Vietnam. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of the Interior says they will carry out in depth investigation to assess whether there are grounds for granting asylum and related assistance. However, associations and activist groups in the province of Ratanakiri emphasize that the Montagnards do not believe the promises and assurances of the authorities in Phnom Penh.