Cambodia: Montagnards' return to Viet Nam
UNHCR staff today accompanied 15 Montagnards who volunteered to leave Cambodia to return home to the Kontum area of Viet Nam's Central Highlands.
A small convoy of UNHCR and other vehicles left the Cambodian town of Rattanakiri at 7 a.m. and entered Viet Nam about three hours later. They were expected to arrive in Kontum around 2:30 p.m. local time.
The voluntary return of the Montagnards, part of a group of some 1,000 who fled their homes in Viet Nam's Central Highlands nearly a year ago, was carried out under a tripartite agreement reached in January between UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia. The agreement gives UNHCR access to the Central Highlands before, during and after any repatriation. This means a very focused, labour-intensive operation. UNHCR staff visited the homes of prospective returnees last week and then reported in detail to the Montagnards on what they could expect to find upon their arrival back home. Today, we had at least seven staff accompanying the returnees back to Kontum area, and we will continue to monitor their reintegration in the months to come.
We are aware of the concerns expressed by some U.S. officials and NGOs about this voluntary repatriation. UNHCR, however, is following the terms of the tripartite agreement and this repatriation is in full compliance with our mandate. Over the decades, UNHCR has helped millions of people repatriate as one of the preferred durable solutions for refugees. In the latest year for which we have figures - 2000 - we helped repatriate 786,000 people worldwide.
In this particular operation, we have taken every precaution possible to ensure that those going home are doing so voluntarily. All were counselled in advance and given detailed information on conditions at home, helping them to make an informed decision. Only those originating from villages already visited by UNHCR are being repatriated.
UNHCR's team will continue its work in Viet Nam's Central Highlands, visiting home villages of prospective returnees and then returning to Cambodia to do the necessary individual counselling so the Montagnards can make an informed decision on whether they wish to return.