Assistant High Commissioner's mission to Cambodia and Viet Nam

Briefing Notes, 25 April 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 April 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, is on the first leg of a five-day mission to Cambodia and Viet Nam today, Tuesday. During her mission she is scheduled to meet senior government officials to discuss the framework concerning the Montagnard situation and the reduction of statelessness, as well as meet non-governmental organisations, other UN agencies and staff.

On Wednesday in Viet Nam, a two-day field visit to the Central Highlands is planned to meet local authorities and Montagnard returnees from Cambodia. Feller is then scheduled to travel to the capital Hanoi to meet senior government officials before returning to Geneva over the weekend.

In Hanoi in January 2005, the governments of Cambodia and Viet Nam and UNHCR signed an agreement under which some 750 Montagnards an ethnic minority from Viet Nam's Central Highlands who had arrived in Cambodia claiming religious concerns and land grievances, would either be resettled or returned to Viet Nam as Cambodia said it would not allow the Montagnards to remain in the country. Since the agreement was signed 190 Montagnards have returned to Viet Nam comprising 96 voluntary returnees and 94 rejected asylum seekers, while 605 have been resettled the vast majority to the United States, while 204 Montagnards are under UNHCR's protection in Phnom Penh some of which arrived after the signing of the agreement.

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Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

UNHCR estimates that up to 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.

Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam: Without a CountryPlay video

Viet Nam: Without a Country

In the 1970s, thousands of people fled to Viet Nam to escape the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Some of those who stayed in places Like Ho Chi Minh City became stateless.