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Viet Nam: Montagnard visit

Briefing notes

Viet Nam: Montagnard visit

24 May 2005

Last week UNHCR conducted a three-day visit to Viet Nam's central highlands (18-21 May) to monitor the well-being of Montagnard asylum seekers who had chosen to return to home in March after fleeing to Cambodia claiming land confiscation and religious persecution. The refugee agency's top official in Hanoi travelled to three districts in Gia Lai and one district in Kom Tum where he visited 18 returnee families in their homes. He reported the returnees seemed well and had resumed their normal lives. None of the returnees interviewed said they had suffered any ill treatment since they had returned. All returnees said after arriving back in the country they had spent between 2 days - 1 week in the provincial capital of Pleiku, where they were questioned by authorities on the reasons for their departure, were told about government policy towards minorities and Montagnard returnees, and also underwent administrative formalities.

In March, a total of 35 Montagnards in Cambodia returned of their own free will to Viet Nam under the terms of an agreement signed in late January between UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia aimed at finding solutions for the some 750 Montagnards who had fled to Cambodia. Under that agreement Viet Nam gave written guarantees that the returnees would not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted. The UNHCR official was unable to visit all returnees because of the large distances involved in getting to their homes, but there were no constraints from the local authorities concerning access. UNHCR hopes the other returnees could be visited in subsequent visits.

In November last year we expressed our deep concern about Montagnards who were crossing into Cambodia under the mistaken idea that UNHCR could help them resolve property disputes in their villages in Viet Nam's central highlands. At that time, the overwhelming majority of the Montagnards were rejecting resettlement in a third country although Cambodia insisted they could not stay.

The January accord aimed to find solutions for the Montagnards in Cambodia. The majority of refugees are now choosing to resettle to countries such as the United States, Canada and Finland and 106 have already left Cambodia to start their new lives. Some refugees have preferred to return to Viet Nam, while there are also 114 rejected asylum seekers, which under the terms of the agreement, will have to return to Viet Nam. No date has yet been set for their return.