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ICC Note: Although the Vietnamese government has given its word not to discriminate or punish these Montagnards who had applied for refugee status, Vietnam’s previous track record on human rights for religious and ethnic minorities has not been good, and this would be a larger group of returnees.  ICC will maintain its vigilance and report on any developments.

By Abby Seiff, Phnom Penh

09/14/2015 Cambodia (

The Cambodian government has given the United Nations’ refugee agency three months to return scores of Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam after refusing to give the persecuted Christian minorities refugee status.

Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak told on Sept. 14 that Cambodia asked the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, to “repatriate those illegal Montagnards within three months. If they can’t do it, then we will implement our immigration law and do it ourselves.”

Thirteen Montagnards who did receive refugee status, meanwhile, will not be allowed to settle in Cambodia, he said.

“We asked the UNHCR to find a third country for them to resettle.”

The UNHCR could not be reached for comment, but on Sept. 13 spokeswoman Vivian Tan told The Phnom Penh Post that the agency had received assurance from Vietnam that “it will not discriminate against or punish them.”

An estimated 200 Montagnards have entered Cambodia during the past year, crossing through border jungles to flee an oppressive Vietnam. In recent months, a number have willingly returned to Vietnam after failing to secure refugee status, but the mass repatriation raises questions of whether their safety can be guaranteed.

They fled because their “rights were restricted,” said Sourn Butmao, executive director of the Phnom Penh-based Minority Rights Organization. “I’m wondering how can Vietnam treat them well?”

In June, Human Rights Watch released a broad report on Vietnam’s treatment of Montagnards, highlighting “systematic” persecution of the minority.

Among the oppressive policies was “arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” the report noted.

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