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Montagnard Repatriation Agreement is Flawed

Montagnard Foundation
Since 2001 thousands of Montagnards have fled to Cambodia to escape persecution by the Vietnamese government. In turn Vietnamese authorities have been hunting down these refugees on the border and pressuring Cambodia to forcibly return them. Human Rights Watch has however, confirmed in their latest report that many Montagnards are severely mistreated after being returned to Vietnam (Vietnam: New Evidence of Torture, Mass Arrests of Montagnards: Cambodia Slams Door on New Asylum Seekers). Currently a repatriation agreement has been signed with the UNHCR that will only lead to more suffering of Montagnards.

On 25 January 2005 the Government of Cambodia, Vietnam and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding over 700 Montagnard asylum seekers who are currently in Cambodia under UNHCR protection. The Montagnard Foundation submits this MOU is flawed and dangerous because it does not contain any explicit guarantees that Montagnard refugees returned to Vietnam will be effectively protected by the UNHCR.

Further, the MOU does not meet the main request formulated in accordance with international law by more than 300 Montagnard refugees who wrote a public letter addressed to the UNHCR High Commissioner last November 2004. The UNHCR has not yet responded to this letter, which stated that the 300 Montagnard refugees would be more than willing to return to Vietnam only if the Vietnamese Government would allow UNHCR and other independent monitoring teams, including NGOs, to have free access to their villages and the Central Highlands .

The MOU states “The Vietnamese side will be responsible for transporting the returnees from the venue of readmission to the localities of their residence before their departure to Cambodia ”, and “For the immediate groups, at the request of UNHCR and at an appropriate time, the Vietnamese Government and UNHCR will consult and cooperate on visits to the returnees. UNHCR is committed to endeavor to obtain the necessary funds internationally for infrastructure projects in the returnee localities. The assistance which might be necessary will be appraised by UNHCR during its working visits to such localities.”

These terms of the agreement clearly do not guarantee that UNHCR will be able to protect the refugees through the establishment of a monitoring presence in Vietnam nor during the repatriation process.

Furthermore the MOU states “Those who neither want to resettle in a third country nor to return to Vietnam will have one month following determination of their status to decide either to go to a third country or to come back to Vietnam. If then they do not decide, the Royal Government of Cambodia and the UNHCR will work with the Vietnamese Government to bring them back to Vietnam in an orderly and safe fashion and in conformity with national and international laws.”

Given the widely documentation by human rights organizations that Montagnard refugees face imprisonment, torture and mistreatment when repatriated in Vietnam, it is hereby submitted the repatriation of these refugees, without their agreement blatantly violates the Convention Against Torture (art. 3) and the 1951 Convention on Refugees.