Viet Nam: First international monitoring visit to returned Montagnards completed
Earlier this week, UNHCR finished conducting its first international monitoring visit to some Montagnards who had recently returned voluntarily or were deported back to Viet Nam's Central Highlands from Cambodia. The two-day visit by UNHCR's regional representative, based in Thailand, accompanied by our national staff member who has already made several monitoring visits to the region, took place in Ia Grai and Chu Se districts bordering Cambodia's Ratanakiri province. In total, 21 Montagnards were visited, 10 in Ia Grai and 11 in Chu Se - including 11 people who had returned voluntarily between March and May this year, and 10 rejected asylum seekers who were deported by the Cambodian authorities on 20 July. The overall impression of the mission was that the Montagnards visited seemed well and in good physical condition and sincere efforts had been made by the local authorities to provide assistance to the returnees, help them find jobs and reintegrate. In Chu Se district all the Montagnards interviewed confirmed they had received job offers.
During the visit UNHCR was accompanied by three Vietnamese officials during the interviews, some of which were conducted on a group basis, however 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 had 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. Among the 21 Montagnards visited, we followed up on three cases brought to our attention by a human rights group who had reported 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.
We also followed up another three cases which an NGO had reported concerns over. The cases, in two separate villages, were visited and found to be in good health and not frightened as reported. Indeed, the mission was emotionally greeted by the extended families of two male returnees, who were visibly happy to see their menfolk back home.
In Ia Grai, the commune had designated a vice-chair who was a Montagnard to follow the cases of the returnees - they 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. In Chu Se offers of jobs on state farms or in cotton factories have been made, but some Montagnards have decided not to take this offer for the time being. Eight returnees were visited at a vocational training centre where they were on a job skills course.
After his mission, our representative said it seemed 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 woman, recently deported did appear shy during an interview and we have asked for her case to be followed up. The representative said he was positively impressed by efforts to find jobs and vocational training for the Montagnards to mitigate the consequences of return after being in Cambodia for over a year in some cases. Cooperation with the Vietnamese authorities was good throughout the mission.
Since the signing of an agreement 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, a total of 137 Montagnards have returned to Viet Nam- 43 returned voluntarily and 94 rejected asylum seekers were deported; a further 179 have departed for resettlement to third countries.
There are currently 480 Montagnards under UNHCR's care in Phnom Penh - 443 recognised refugees of which 39 have refused resettlement and 353 awaiting departure for resettlement to Finland, Canada and the USA. There are also 20 rejected cases, and 17 humanitarian cases in which we understand the US has an interest.