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Asylum Seekers’ Position ‘Extremely Precarious,’ UN Agencies Say

Montagnard hill tribesmen walk towards the main road after emerging from dense forest 70 km (43 miles) northeast of Ban Lung, located in Cambodia's northeastern province of Ratanakiri, file photo.

Two UN agencies have expressed increased concern for a group of potential asylum seekers in hiding in the remote northeast of the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and its office of human rights said in a statement they are “increasingly concerned about the health and well-being of 13 Vietnamese Montagnards who have been hiding in the Cambodian jungle with no access to assistance or protection.”

The group has been in hiding for at least seven weeks, putting them in an “extremely precarious” position, the UN agencies said. “They are reportedly suffering from various physical ailments, including dengue fever and malaria, and are afraid to venture out due to fears of arrest and deportation. They told local sources that they had fled religious persecution back home and wished to seek asylum.”

Local authorities in Ratanakkiri province have refused to allow UN workers to seek out the group, increasing concerns that Cambodia intends to send them back to Vietnam without providing them a chance to apply for asylum.

Chhay Thy, Ratanakkir coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the Cambodian authorities appear to be ignoring international conventions for refugees.

Wan Hea Lee, a representative of the UN’s human rights office in Cambodia, told VOA Khmer in a phone interview from Ratanakkiri that she was waiting for a plan to proceed.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the UN was working without cooperation of Cambodian authorities by not informing them where they were going.