Phnom Penh closes a UN refugee camp for Vietnamese Montagnards
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Cambodian government has ordered the closure of a UN refugee camp, which housed refugees from the ethnic Montagnard minority, fleeing from neighbouring Vietnam. They are mostly evangelical Christians, from poorer inland areas, and have repeatedly denounced persecution for their faith and support of the United States at the time of the war.
Human rights activists are appealing to Phnom Penh, urging the government to comply with the directives of the UN Convention on the Rights of Refugees. The future of some of the exiles is in the hands of the Cambodian government, who signed the United Nations Charter, but maintains an ambiguous attitude towards the Montagnards. At first, Phnom Penh announced the repatriation of Vietnamese refugees. It then stated that it would comply with immigration and refugee laws, not excluding the possibility of resettling those claiming refugee status.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it is seriously concerned about the future of the Montagnards, who may not receive treatment "in accordance with international standards." Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW for Asia, said: "It is imperative that the Cambodian government comply with international agreements and does not return those who seek asylum to a place where their lives and their freedom will be in danger."
However, the Catholic association Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is in favours of closing the Cambodian centre because it "was the equivalent of a detention” centre, where refugees lived in the same way as prisoners. To date, the centre hosted 20 people, 10 of whom were resettled in a third country (five-a-head between the U.S. and Canada). The remaining were not granted refugee status and could be forcibly returned by the weekend.
In 2001 and 2004 at least two thousand Montagnards emigrated to Cambodia to escape the violence of the Vietnamese authorities, who arbitrarily confiscated their land and persecuted them because of their Christian faith. Most of them have obtained political asylum, with the United States at the forefront of granting them visas.