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ICC NOTE: In what can only be thought of as a violation of national sovereignty, Vietnamese authorities crossed the border into Cambodia to intimidate Montagnard asylum seekers into returning to their native country. The Montagnard people of Vietnam have been heavily persecuted by the Vietnamese government over their religious and ethnic ties as well as their history of supporting both the United States and South Vietnam during the war. Many who have fled to Cambodia have failed to receive refugee status from the government with only an estimated dozen out of 300 earning such a status. 

6/9/2016 Vietnam (Radio Free Asia) – Vietnamese police questioned a group of Montagnards living in Phnom Penh in what appears to be a failed attempt to get them to return to their native country, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.

The move by the Vietnamese authorities on Tuesday was condemned by civil society as intimidation of the Montagnards, who rights groups say have been victims of persecution and repression in Vietnam. Rights groups also questioned how foreign police were allowed to enter and operate in Cambodia.

“Those Montagnards fled their country due to racial, political and religious oppression, and threats,” Suon Bunsak general secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC) told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“If officials from their country of origin came to visit them, it is a threat to their personal safety,” he added.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also questioned the meeting.

“No one who seeks asylum should be forced to meet the representative of the government they accused of tormenting them,” UNHCR official Vivian Tan told RFA.

Among the Vietnamese authorities who interrogated the group of about 150 Montagnards was the chief of Gai Lai provincial police, the Montagnards told RFA.

Afraid to go back

While the Vietnamese police attempted to persuade the Montagnards to return to Vietnam, the asylum seekers refused for fear of what might happen if they returned, they told RFA. The Montagnards also expressed fear that Vietnamese would kidnap them or that the Cambodian government would send them back.

Tan Sokvichea, head of the Immigration Department’s Refugee Division, told RFA he was unaware of the Vietnamese police visit.

“I did not receive any information because this is at the political level,” he said. “The leaders discussed it, but we as the implementing officials did not know about that.  The U.N. was not involved. They just said that Cambodia needs to implement legal principles in accordance with international law.”

While immigration officials may have been unaware of the visit, the Montagnards told RFA that Cambodian police accompanied the Vietnamese.

Attempts to reach the ministry’s spokesperson Khiev Sopheak were unsuccessful, but Suon Bunsak told RFA that the visit was a black eye for the Cambodian government.

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