UNHCR, OHCHR appeal to Cambodian authorities to allow access to Vietnamese Montagnards in hiding

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR and OHCHR are increasingly concerned about the health and well-being of 13 Vietnamese Montagnards who have been hiding for the past seven weeks in the Cambodian jungle without access to assistance or protection.

The group is in north-eastern Cambodia's Ratanakiri province, and their situation is extremely precarious. They are reportedly suffering from various physical ailments including dengue fever and malaria, and fearing arrest and deportation are afraid to venture out. They have told local sources that they had fled religious persecution back home and wished to seek asylum.

A joint team from Cambodia's Ministry of Interior, UNHCR and OHCHR travelled to Ratanakiri on Thursday last week (December 11) to talk to the local authorities and the Montagnards. It was agreed that if the group indicated that they wished to apply for asylum, they would be brought to Phnom Penh to enable them to do so.

Despite being instructed by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior H.E. Sar Kheng to cooperate with the joint team, the local authorities in Ratanakiri have refused to allow the team to meet the group or to transport them to the capital. This morning, provincial authorities prevented UN access to ethnic-Jarai villages in the area. In the meantime, UN officials were informed that provincial police have continued to search for the individuals, possibly with a view to returning them to Viet Nam.

UNHCR and OHCHR appeal to the Cambodian authorities to take urgent action to ensure that the Montagnard group is escorted to Phnom Penh and given access to the asylum procedure in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention and Cambodia's sub-decree on refugees and asylum-seekers.

Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and started registering and processing asylum claims in late 2009.

For more information, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch, mobile +41 79 557 9106
  • In Bangkok, Vivian Tan, mobile +66 818