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13 Montagnards Recommended for Refugee Status; 36 Deported

Montagnard people from Vietnam have crossed the border into Cambodia hiding out in the forests in northeastern Cambodia, fearful that the Cambodian authorities will deport them. (Courtesy photo: United Nations)

Thirteen Vietnamese Montagnards have been recommended for refugee status by authorities, pending approval by the Minister of Interior.

But even as the news came Monday, so too did reports that 36 Montagnards who had fled Vietnam and attempted to reach the capital were arrested and deported last week.

Chhay Thy, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, in Ratanakkiri province, said the 36 people had tried to flee to Phnom Penh in three vans on the night of Feb. 25.

All 36 were arrested about three hours after setting off and were sent back to Vietnam, Chhay Thy said, citing reports from drivers and villagers.

One van driver, a Cambodian of the Jarai hill-tribe minority, was detained and put in a police car, but his whereabouts remain unknown, Chhay Thy said.

Ratanakkiri Police Chief Ngoun Koeun declined to give more detail to the reports, but he said those deported were “illegal immigrants.”

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sar Kheng must approve the refugee status for the remaining 13, after a recommendation by the ministry’s immigration department, Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the ministry, said.

The 13, including one woman, had fled to the jungles of remote Ratanakkiri province late last year and were brought to Phnom Penh with the support of the UN High Commission for Refugees.