Cambodia: UNHCR urges government to meet its obligations

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is extremely concerned about reports that some Vietnamese asylum seekers have been deported from Cambodia over recent months. The expulsions reportedly took place as recently as a week ago, when various reports indicate that 14 Vietnamese from various Montagnard tribes were sent back to th eir homeland.

UNHCR has reinforced its presence in remote Ratanakiri Province, where aid workers must travel by boat to some border areas, and we are trying to investigate the reported deportations. UNHCR staff have been redeployed to Ratanakiri from neighbouring Mondulkiri Province, and additional staff have been sent from Laos and Thailand. Today, another staff member is travelling to the region from Geneva.

UNHCR is very concerned that police may have deported Vietnamese who lacked proper documents, including individuals who claimed to be fleeing for political reasons. In a meeting yesterday with the provincial governor of Ratanakiri Province, a former refugee himself, UNHCR was told that instructions have been given that police should not deport any Vietnamese. UNHCR expects that these commitments and, most importantly, Cambodia's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, will be honoured.

UNHCR's regional representative met with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng late last week following the most recent reported deportation. UNHCR was assured that Cambodia would honour its international obligations as a signatory of the 1951 Convention on refugees and respect the right to asylum. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen had previously announced that the country would honour its obligations and permit Vietnamese to seek asylum.

It is vital that Cambodian officials - at all levels - implement the humanitarian approach endorsed by the prime minister and other senior officials. It is unacceptable for asylum seekers to be forced back to their country of origin without a proper review of their asylum claims. Reports of deportations in which frightened Montagnards have been handed over to Vietnamese border officials and led away in handcuffs should be investigated, and UNHCR staff must be allowed access to asylum seekers.

Some 200 Vietnamese asylum seekers in Cambodia are known to UNHCR. Most of them - some 160 people - are gathered at the Sen Morenom reception centre in Mondulkiri. Another 30-40 Vietnamese are reported elsewhere, in the remote border regions. Based on various reports, more than 100 Vietnamese tribespeople may have been deported from Cambodia over recent months.