Montagnard returnees to Viet Nam in good shape, says UNHCR
GENEVA, May 24 (UNHCR) - After a three-day monitoring trip last week to Viet Nam's central highlands to check on the well-being of Montagnards who had voluntarily returned from Cambodia, UNHCR has reported that the returnees seem to be in good shape and back in the swing of normal life.
Vu Anh Son, a UNHCR official, met with local authorities and 18 returnee families during his May 18-21 visit to Gia Lai and Kom Tum provinces in the central highlands. A total of 35 Montagnards returned home in March after an agreement was signed by UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia in late January this year.
Son said all of the returnees he met said they had stopped over in Pleiku, the provincial capital of Gia Lai, for a period of two to five days immediately after their return to Viet Nam. They said they were questioned by the local authorities about the reasons for their departure and were told about the government policies towards minorities and Montagnard returnees. They also underwent certain administrative formalities.
"No one I met amongst the returnees claimed they were beaten or harassed during their stay in Pleiku or upon their return home," said Son, who visited the returnees in their homes. "They all seemed in good shape."
Under the January accord, Viet Nam gave written guarantees that the returnees will not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted.
As the returnees' homes are spread out in various districts, Son had to drive over 650 km in two-and-a-half days to visit 18 returnee families in three districts in Gia Lai and one district on Kom Tum. Because of the distances involved, he was unable to meet all returnees during this visit but there were no constraints by the authorities concerning access. UNHCR hopes to check on the other returnees on subsequent visits.
"The returnees seem pleased to be back and have started their lives again," Son said.
The stories of the Montagnards' return are all quite similar, Son reported. They mentioned their stay in Pleiku, then the return to their villages and normal life where most are involved in the cultivation of crops such as peppers, manioc, cashews and rice.
The returnees are some of the 750 Montagnards who fled to Cambodia over the past year - many on the mistaken notion that UNHCR could help them resolve property disputes in their villages in Viet Nam's central highlands. The Montagnards cited religious persecution and land grievances as the main reasons for fleeing Viet Nam.
The January accord aimed to find solutions for the Montagnards in Cambodia. The majority of refugees, after initially overwhelmingly rejecting resettlement, are now choosing to resettle in third countries such as the United States, Canada and Finland. Some refugees have preferred to return to Viet Nam, while there are also 114 rejected asylum seekers, which under the terms of the agreement will have to return to Viet Nam. No date has yet been set for their return.
By Jennifer Pagonis