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Cambodia Daily: US Changes Policy on Montagnards’ Interviews

by Suzy Khimm

ICC Note: The situation for the Montagnards is not improving despite claims that it is.

5/7/07 Vietnam For full story….(Refugees International) As of May 1, Montagnards rejected by the UNHCR should return to Vietnam and then approach the US Embassy in Hanoi or the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City directly if they want to apply to the US Slate Department for refugee status, embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said.
Daigle said the change in policy was due to improved conditions for Montagnards in Vietnam ‘s Central Highlands and better access to the region by outside monitors.
“We believe that human rights conditions are improving in the Central Highlands, a region to which UNHCR and other diplomatic missions have had increased access over the past year,” Daigle wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
“[We] have received assurances from the Vietnamese government that it will allow Montagnards to apply for refugee status at our embassy or consulate in that country. We have no reason to doubt these assurances,” Daigle added.
The “second chance” interviews were previously conducted in Phnom Penh by representatives of the US Department of Homeland Security based in Bangkok , in concert with the US Embassy, Daigle said.
Washington-based organization Refugees International voiced concern about the policy change. “The new policy weakens protections for Montagnards…and possibly exposes Montagnards to new problems when forced home,” Refugees International said in a statement.
The change “would close a crucial safety valve for Montagnards because travel within Vietnam is sometimes restricted,” Refugees International added.
In 2006, the US interviewed 75 Montagnards rejected by UNCHR in Phnom Penh and granted refugee status to 33, Refugees International said.
In a June report, Human Rights Watch alleged that Montagnards in the Central Highlands continue to suffer serious human rights abuses and face torture and persecution.