Jan 21, 2016

Degar-Montagnards: Cambodian Government Agrees to Interview Asylum Seekers

Following a meeting with UNHCR officials in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government has agreed to conduct interviews with Vietnamese Degar-Montagnards seeking asylum in the country. Since 2015, more than 200 indigenous people from the Central Highlights of Vietnam have entered Cambodia fleeing persecution by the Vietnamese Government. The Executive Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Sister Denise Coghlan, welcomed the initiative and said that this is the result of an intense advocacy work so that local authorities in Phnom Penh comply with international law. It is expected that, following the interviews, a “just solution” will be offered for both the ones considered to be refugees as well as for those not entitled to the status.

Below is an article published by Anadolu Agency

Cambodia’s government is set to “expedite” interviews with 200 Vietnamese Montagnards who have sought asylum in the country, following a meeting with UNHCR officials in Phnom Penh.

Lieutenant General Por Phak, deputy chief of cabinet and spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior’s general secretariat, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday evening that both sides pledged their “commitment to work together with regard to the matter of the Montagnards.”

He said that the Montagnards – who began arriving in separate groups last March, claiming they were fleeing persecution – had been distinguished into two groups.

“One is those who have been recognized with refugee status, there are 13,” Por Phak said.

He added that “the other is more than 11 who are pending to be interviewed, so the interviews could be happening in the near future and again we will be working together with UNHCR and the department of refugees and general department of immigration.”

He underlined that “no decision” would be made as to whether the Montagnards can stay or be returned to Vietnam “until the interviews are conducted and then the determination will be made.”

UNHCR’s Bangkok-based regional spokesperson, Vivian Tan, could not be contacted.

Vietnamese Montagnards, also known as Degar Christians, originate primarily in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, but have experienced persecution by the Vietnamese government that includes arrests and torture.

Since the groups started arriving in Cambodia last year, their numbers have swelled to more than 200.

Sister Denise Coghlan, executive director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that the outcome of the meeting was “extremely good news”.

“This is what we have been advocating for the whole year — that they be registered, assessed, and then a decision made on each family case,” Coghlan said.

Asked if she believed there could still be a possibility that some genuine refugees from the groups could be returned, Coghlan said she hoped not.

“I have trust that the Cambodian government will follow international law and… those found to be refugees will get a just solution. It is also fair that those not found to be refugees are asked to voluntarily return home or be sent home.”

Coghlan said she had attended an Australia Day function at the Australian Emabssy on Tuesday evening, during which Foreign Minister Hor Namhong spoke of Cambodia’s commitment to receiving refugees.

The Cambodian and Australian governments signed a transfer deal in 2014 for refugees detained by Australia on the island of Nauru to be resettled in Cambodia instead.

The deal is worth a total of AU$55 million (originally around $40 million), but only six people have taken up the offer, with one going back to Myanmar after just a few months.

Photo courtesy of Anadolu Agency