Viet Nam: UNHCR staff assessing return conditions
Four UNHCR staff members are visiting the homes in Viet Nam's Central Highlands of around 100 of the 1,084 Vietnamese Montagnards in Cambodia who have expressed a desire to repatriate. The UNHCR staff members began on Monday looking into conditions of return in Kontum and Pleiku districts. They will then cross the border into Cambodia on Thursday and counsel the Montagnards who had said they wish to return home to Viet Nam. Once the Montagnards have reconfirmed their decision to go back, UNHCR will organize the first repatriation convoy, possibly over the weekend.
On 21 January, Viet Nam, Cambodia and UNHCR signed an agreement for the voluntary return of the Montagnards, who fled into Cambodia allegedly because of land disputes and religious persecution by Vietnamese authorities. A UNHCR team conducted a preliminary visit to the areas of potential returns late last month and received assurances of support from local authorities for UNHCR's work in the area.
The UNHCR team now in the Central Highlands is led by the Bangkok-based deputy regional representative in south-east Asia and the members have been involved in the 1989 international initiative known as the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA). They speak Vietnamese. Around 120,000 Vietnamese boat people languishing for years in first asylum countries in Southeast Asia returned home with UNHCR under the CPA, which stemmed the exodus from Viet Nam in the late 1970s through the 80s. Procedures being followed in the current repatriation exercise for the Montagnards are similar to those under the CPA.