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UNHCR mission finds Montagnard returnees and deportees well

UNHCR mission finds Montagnard returnees and deportees well

An international mission from the UN refugee agency this week visited 21 Montagnards who had recently returned or been deported from Cambodia to Viet Nam's central highlands. The monitoring team found them doing well at home, receiving assistance, job offers and training.
5 August 2005
UNHCR regional representative Hasim Utkan (in striped shirt) visiting Montagnard returnees in Gia Lai province in Viet Nam's central highlands.

GENEVA, August 5 (UNHCR) - A UNHCR international monitoring mission to Viet Nam's central highlands has found some of the Montagnards who recently returned or were deported from Cambodia, doing well at home - receiving assistance, job offers and training.

"This was a very encouraging and enlightening visit. It's a process well worth continuing," said UNHCR regional representative Hasim Utkan by telephone from Pleiku in the Vietnamese central highlands. He completed a two-day visit this week, accompanied by a national staff member who had previously made five monitoring visits to the region.

Utkan visited 21 Montagnard returnees in Chu Se and Ia Grai districts bordering Cambodia's Ratanakiri province. The number was almost equally split between those who had returned voluntarily earlier in the year and rejected asylum seekers who were deported on July 20.

"There seems to have been a genuine and positive attempt by the authorities to provide assistance to the returnees - such as kerosene, rice, salt and seedlings, as well as offering them jobs or vocational training to help them reintegrate," said the UNHCR official. In Chu Se district, the local leadership had embarked on a sustained effort to reintegrate the returnees, with all the Montagnards interviewed confirming they had received job offers, he added.

The overall impression of the mission was that the visited Montagnards, an ethnic minority in Viet Nam, seemed well, in good physical condition and under no particular threat or duress.

UNHCR was accompanied by three Vietnamese officials during the interviews, some of which were conducted on a group basis. The interviewees generally appeared relaxed. Some Montagnards were interviewed in a school, others in their villages and another group at a vocational training centre where they were attending a job training course.

"We could visit whoever we wanted. We asked the Vietnamese authorities to see specific cases, and this was arranged without problems. We also asked to see a mixture of returnees and deportees, which was also arranged," said Utkan.

Among the 21 Montagnards visited, the mission followed up on three cases brought to the refugee agency's attention by a human rights group who had reported that two cases were in hiding and one allegedly in prison.

"We met with all three cases in their homes. The two supposedly in hiding said they had not hidden and seemed astonished by the allegation, and the person allegedly imprisoned said he had visited an administrative centre for half a day but had never been imprisoned. All three appeared in good physical health and spirits," said Utkan.

The monitoring mission also visited a further three cases which a non-governmental organisation had reported concerns over. The cases, in two separate villages, were found in good health and not frightened as reported. Indeed, the mission was greeted emotionally by the extended families of two male returnees, who were visibly happy to see their men folk back home.

In Ia Grai, the commune had designated a vice-chair who was a Montagnard to follow the cases of the returnees who had received kerosene, rice, salt and seedlings to plant.

"It appears the provinces are aware of the instructions from Hanoi to treat the returnees well. Offers of jobs on state farms or in cotton factories have been made in Chu Se, but some Montagnards have decided not to take up this offer for the time being," said Utkan.

Eight returnees were visited at a vocational training centre where they were on a job skills course.

The Montagnards visited did not appear to be in any way endangered or threatened, and many seemed happy to be back with their families. One recently deported woman appeared shy during an interview and her case is being followed up, Utkan added.

An agreement was signed in Hanoi in January 2005, aimed at finding solutions for some 500 Montagnards in Cambodia - essentially either resettlement or return to Viet Nam as Cambodia has insisted they cannot stay. Since then, a total of 137 Montagnards have returned to Viet Nam - 43 voluntarily and 94 deported after their asylum claims were rejected. A further 179 have left for resettlement to third countries.

There are currently 480 Montagnards under UNHCR's care in Phnom Penh. This includes 443 recognised refugees - 39 have refused resettlement and 353 are awaiting departure for resettlement to Finland, Canada and the United States. There are also 20 rejected cases, and 17 humanitarian cases in which the US has an interest.