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Police Investigating Refugee ‘Trafficking’

Police have begun an investigation into whether Montagnards from Vietnam are being trafficked to the UN refugee agency in Phnom Penh, authorities said Friday.

“There is no reason that Montagnards coming from the central plateau of Vietnam arrive at the camp of [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] in the center of Phnom Penh with no indication of support,” Ministry of Interior Khieu Sopheak said Friday. “The ministry is investigating, and if we find evidence like this, it is a human trafficking case, not a question for UNHCR.”

Cambodian law carries a 10 year prison sentence for human trafficking.

The local daily newspaper Rasmey Kampuchea carried a story Thursday in which an alleged Montagnard claimed to have been brought to Cambodia with promises of resettlement in a third country and, cheated instead, brought to UNHCR.

Toshi Kawauchi, protection officer at UNHCR told VOA Khmer he was unaware of the story, but he declined to comment on whether it constituted a threat to the organization.

“The investigation is up to the [Ministry of Information]. The police are responsible for any possible crime,” he said. “Our duty is to provide assistance to those refugees who are in need of international protection.”

Refugees from the mountains of Vietnam have been flowing into Cambodia since 2001, claiming they were escaping oppression by Vietnamese authorities. Nearly 2,000 have been admitted as refugees and settled in third countries, many to the US, angering Hanoi.

At least 600 others are under the protection of UNHCR in Phnom Penh.