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UN News Service – In what they called “an unprecedented monitoring visit” in Viet Nam , United Nations refugee officials have accompanied a group of returning Montagnards from Cambodia to the homes which they fled over the past year, claiming religious persecution and land disputes. The officials found that all six returnees seemed glad to be back home and reunited with their families, and they saw the monitoring as giving the refugees confidence to return, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

The first Montagnards, who are mainly Christian, were repatriated in March under an agreement with the UNHCR, which allowed the 716 Montagnards under its care in Cambodia to choose to resettle in a third country or return home. So far 72 have voluntarily returned and 286 have been resettled to third countries, mainly the United States , but also Finland and Canada .

But this was the first time that UNHCR officials accompanied returnees throughout the entire three-day journey from Phnom Penh , the Cambodian capital, to their homes and families in the La Grai, Druc Co and A Yun Pa districts. Officials have visited earlier groups of returnees, but these were accompanied only by Vietnamese authorities from the Viet Nam border to Pleiku city.

The six were the last of a larger group who had initially been refusing both voluntary return to Viet Nam and resettlement to a third country. The Viet Nam Government’s willingness to let UNHCR accompany the returnees and to allow increasingly regular monitoring visits are seen by the agency as evidence of its commitment to successfully reintegrate the returnees.

UNHCR field officer Eldon Hager said news of the Agency’s increasingly regular monitoring visits also gave the refugees confidence “that their safety would be assured upon return.”