PHNOM PENH —
Rights groups in Cambodia have urged the government to accept Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam, who continue to come over the border.
Rights workers fear that Cambodia is turning them away, or arresting them and turning them back over to Vietnam, rather than obliging international norms and laws.
Chhay Thy, coordinator for the rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri province, said the Cambodian government hasn’t provided equal treatment to Montagnards, compared to other refugee groups. Cambodia was being particularly careful with new refugees under a deal with Australia, he said. “So we see the law is one thing, but the implementation is up and down.”
Montagnards are receiving little assistance from the government. Only 13 of nearly 100 have been given refugee status in recent months, he said. Others have had no help, and many have been returned to Vietnam.
Meanwhile, more continue to cross, according to local villagers in the northeastern provinces. On Sunday, two asylum seekers swam across the Sesan River, in Ratanakkiri province, according to reports.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said the Cambodian government should not just focus on offering asylum in exchange for aid money, as it has with Australia, but they should provide equal opportunity for any refugee who comes.
“At least we should offer an interview, asking them whether they are qualified for refugee status or not,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Montagnard cases can be difficult, as some are lured by traffickers. “So we must check clearly first.”
Meanwhile, US Ambassador William Todd wrote in a column recently that law enforcement based on equal rights, including for refugees, is essential for any country.
“At its most basic level, rule of law refers to holding people and institutions, including the government, accountable to ‘laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated,’” he wrote. “In other words, it is about fairness—transparent legal processes, equal treatment, and unbiased adjudicated.”