Cambodia, Viet Nam and UNHCR agree on further Montagnard cooperation
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, August 22 (UNHCR) - Cambodia, Viet Nam and UNHCR have agreed to further cooperate on finding solutions for Montagnard hill tribespeople from Viet Nam's Central Highlands who cross the border into Cambodia.
"It was very useful to sit down together and look at how we can practically continue the good cooperation we've developed over the last eighteen months on trying to resolve this issue," UNHCR's Bangkok-based regional representative, Hasim Utkan, said of Monday's meeting in Phnom Penh on the Montagnards.
The participants agreed that the UN refugee agency would continue monitoring returnees to the Central Highlands. They also decided to speed up both the voluntary repatriation process and joint missions by UNHCR and the Cambodian authorities to retrieve Montagnard asylum seekers in border areas.
The Phnom Penh gathering was the first, apart from a technical meeting, between the three parties since an agreement was signed in Hanoi in January 2005, which set out to find solutions for some 750 Montagnards in Cambodia.
Of that original group, 561 have been resettled to third countries - mainly the United States - 163 have returned to Viet Nam, and 26 remain in Cambodia, eight of whom will depart to the US in late August. The Hanoi accord continues to be used as the operational framework for arrivals in Cambodia.
A total 237 Montagnards, who arrived after the agreement was signed, are currently staying at sites in Phnom Penh.
In Viet Nam, UNHCR has carried out 12 monitoring missions to the Central Highlands and has visited 115 returnees. More than 20 returnees have been met more than twice. The continued monitoring will be extended to those not yet visited. The next monitoring mission is planned for September.
"We hope that by the time the next monitoring mission is over we would have visited more than 90 percent of the returnees," Utkan said. So far, UNHCR has no serious concerns about the conditions of the returnees.
Under the terms of the Hanoi agreement between UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia, Montagnards who had arrived in Cambodia and were recognised as refugees could either be resettled to a third country or return to Viet Nam. Viet Nam guaranteed they would not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted for illegal departure.
At Monday's meeting, Viet Nam repeated that Montagnards who wished to join their families in the United States could leave directly, adding that 435 passports had been issued to Montagnards to help accelerate their departure.
UNHCR has funded four projects in Gia Lai province in the Central Highlands in 2005 and 2006, including providing medical equipment for three communal dispensaries in La Grai district and building a primary school in Chu Se district. Two further proposals are in the pipeline awaiting approval. The UN refugee agency has also conducted training courses for officials of various levels to increase understanding about UNHCR's work in Viet Nam.