ICC Note: According to the article, these Montagnards were ‘economic refugees’ seeking better living situations for themselves and their families, while other Montagnards claim refugee status based on their fear of persecution in Vietnam for their religious beliefs. The UNHCR officials appear to have handled the voluntary return of these migrants correctly. ICC will continue to follow these cases, however, to ensure that the UNHCR monitors them as promised, and to ensure that Vietnam follows through with its assurances not to punish, discriminate against, or persecute these returnees.
By Ratha Visal and Samean Yun
07/16/2015 Cambodia (Radio Free Asia)
A dozen ethnic Montagnards who sought refugee status in Cambodia willingly returned to their home country of Vietnam Thursday after Hanoi gave assurances it would not punish or discriminate against them, according to rights group and United Nations officials.
The 12 were part of a group of 31 Montagnards who fled neighboring Vietnam in April citing discrimination, and immediately crossed through Cambodia into Thailand to apply for asylum.
Fifteen members of the group returned to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and moved into the office of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), but three of them voluntarily returned to their home in Vietnam’s Central Highlands soon after.
Thursday evening, the dozen who had remained in the capital agreed to repatriation and were escorted to a checkpoint in northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province on the border with Vietnam by police and U.N. staff, local rights group Adhoc provincial coordinator Chhay Thi told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“They said they had left Vietnam for economic reasons, they wanted better living standards,” he said.
“However, they couldn’t wait for their cases to be processed [in Cambodia] as they were having difficulties enduring, so they volunteered to be repatriated to Vietnam.”
Chhay Thi said that upon delivering the Montagnards to the border, U.N. officials obtained assurances from Vietnamese authorities that the group would not face persecution back home.
“The UNHCR cooperated with Cambodian authorities to repatriate the Montagnards and cooperated with Vietnam,” he said.
“The U.N. set conditions with Vietnam stipulating that when the Montagnards return, there must be no prosecution. And the U.N. said that they will continue to monitor the Montagnards after they arrive at their hometowns.”
Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok, confirmed to RFA that the Montagnards were returned to Vietnam only after they had volunteered to go.
“At their request and on an exceptional basis, we are facilitating the return of 12 Montagnard asylum-seekers to Vietnam’s Central Highlands after verifying that they had opted for it voluntarily,” she said in a statement.
“The government of Vietnam has agreed to receive them and given assurances that it will not discriminate against or punish them. It has also provided assurances that UNHCR will be able to visit them after their return home.”