Vietnamese Montagnards head to Finland for resettlement
PHNOM PENH, May 11 (UNHCR) - Months after crossing through the jungle to seek refuge in north-eastern Cambodia, a group of 27 Montagnard refugees from Viet Nam's central highlands are on their way to Finland to start a new life, in a climate that couldn't be more different from what they're used to.
The refugees, who were flying on Tuesday night from Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to the coastal city of Oulu in Finland, were excited but nervous when UNHCR staff went to brief them on conditions in their new homeland. They are the first group of a total of 72 Montagnards accepted for resettlement in Finland.
"There were a lot of smiles and some laughter during our orientation briefing. Overall they seemed a bit nervous but excited about their new future," said a UN refugee agency protection officer.
The major concerns of the refugees were about the cost of living, which they heard was very high in Finland, the availability of schooling and whether they could work in their new country.
"I have been told that Finland is a very expensive country. I don't have any money, how am I going to be able to live there?" asked Chung Rolan, a concerned 30-year-old father of four daughters.
"In my country I was a farmer, I didn't go to school. I am looking forward to the opportunity to go to school in Finland," he added.
Another refugee said it would be sad to say goodbye to friends and relatives at the site where they had been living in Phnom Penh.
A second group of Montagnards is scheduled to fly to Finland in early June after taking a Finnish orientation course this week.
Most Montagnard refugees in Cambodia have preferred to resettle to the United States, where there is a strong Montagnard community and connections. Others have gone to Sweden, and Canada is also accepting Montagnards for resettlement. Cambodia has always insisted that local integration was not an option for the Montagnards.
Early in November, UNHCR expressed concern about the number of Montagnards crossing into Cambodia under the mistaken impression that the agency could help them get back disputed land. Once it had been made clear that UNHCR could not help them with their land grievances, some asylum seekers said they wanted to return to Viet Nam. Others who had already been recognised as refugees overwhelmingly rejected resettlement.
But since an agreement was signed in Hanoi in January between UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia aimed at finding solutions for some 750 Vietnamese Montagnards who had fled into Cambodia, the majority of refugees are now choosing to resettle to a third country.
"Those who want to resettle are desperate to do so, impatient, tired of waiting. Those who do not want to resettle just don't want to, it doesn't seem to make any difference that others are leaving," said a UNHCR protection officer.
In March, 35 Montagnards decided voluntarily to return to Viet Nam under the terms of the January agreement, under which the Vietnamese government gave written guarantees that the returnees would not be punished, discriminated against and/or prosecuted for their illegal departure.
A further 101 Montagnard asylum seekers were rejected as refugees and will have to return to Viet Nam. No date has been set for their return.
By Jennifer Pagonis