Seven asylees to fly out

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - Erin Han­d­ley

SEVEN Mon­tag­nards who have been deemed refugees by the Cam­bo­dian govern­ment will soon be flown to the Philip­pines, ac­cord­ing the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.

The fate of an­other 29 – whom the UNHCR has said have well­founded fears of per­se­cu­tion – hangs in the bal­ance af­ter their refugee claims were re­jected, a de­ci­sion UNHCR deemed “a grave er­ror in judg­ment”.

The UNHCR’s as­sis­tant re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Alistair Boul­ton, yes­ter­day con­firmed that the Philip­pines was “the lo­ca­tion of our emer­gency tran­sit mech­a­nism [but] not the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion”. He said “tra­di­tional re­set­tle­ment coun­tries are fi­nal des­ti­na­tion”, but de­clined to name them, cit­ing the “pre­car­i­ous­ness of their sit­u­a­tion in Cam­bo­dia”.

Thir­teen Mon­tag­nards who were also recog­nised as refugees af­ter they fled Viet­nam through the forests of Ratanakkiri in late 2014 were sent to the Philip­pines in May last year.

The Mon­tag­nards are a mostly Chris­tian moun­tain eth­nic group from Viet­nam’s Cen­tral High­lands. In 2014 and 2015, hun­dreds es­caped into Cam­bo­dia flee­ing im­pris­on­ment and per­se­cu­tion. The ma­jor­ity have been re­turned to Viet­nam, ex­cept for a group of 50 who fled to Thai­land ear­lier this year.

Boul­ton said the UNHCR was try­ing to re­lo­cate the 29 re­jected refugees, de­spite Cam­bo­dian author­i­ties claim­ing the govern­ment has “no right” to trans­fer them to an­other coun­try.

“We think the sim­plest so­lu­tion con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional le­gal prin­ci­ples is for the Cam­bo­dian govern­ment to let UNHCR take the in­di­vid­u­als out of the coun­try to where they want to go and will be safe. We’ve made and stand by this of­fer,” Boul­ton said.

“There is no rea­son the Refugee Depar tment should i nsi s t on t he i ndivi du­als re­turn­ing against their will to Viet­nam. Cam­bo­dian law does not re­quire it and in­ter­na­tional law for­bids it where there is a risk to life or free­dom on re­turn.”

Hu­man Rights Watch’s Phil Robert­son said the 13 flown to the Philip­pines last year were now on “the glide path to a new life, safe from the per­se­cu­tion they faced in Viet­nam”. How­ever, the “fun­da­men­tal prob­lem” was Cam­bo­dia’s fail­ure to recog­nise that the 29 had sim­i­larly strong claims.

“The Cam­bo­dian govern­ment should rec­og­nize that Viet­nam is set­ting them up as the fall guy for Hanoi’s con­tin­ued poor treat­ment of the Mon­tan­gards,” he said via email.

He urged the Cam­bo­dian govern­ment to al­low the 29 to be taken abroad “be­cause this is the right thing to do and it will save them from a big headache with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity”.

SUP­PLIED

Mon­tag­nards pose with signs call­ing for help from in­ter­na­tional groups to stop Cam­bo­dia from de­port­ing them to Viet­nam.

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