Government set to close refugee site
Officials have confirmed a United Nations-administered refugee centre in Phnom Penh will close its doors today in line with a government order, bringing to an end a 2005 agreement governing the processing of Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam.
“The government stance is not changed. We will implement what we have set out,” said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On November 29, the Foreign Ministry wrote to UNHCR to announce that the refugee centre would be shuttered at the end of the year. It also warned that any Montagnards remaining at the site faced deportation.
The deadline was eventually extended until February 15 following a request from the agency. The centre contained 76 Montagnards when the closure was announced, 62 of whom were registered refugees.
Fifty of the refugees departed for Canada ahead of the deadline last week, and an additional five have also left the country for the United States, said Kitty McKinsey, regional spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
She said 10 of the Montagnards at the site who were judged not to be refugees face voluntary return to Vietnam, while a further 10 were eligible to emigrate and will be moved to another location pending their departure.
“I understand that they’re going to be housed elsewhere in Phnom Penh,” McKinsey said. She said she did not know their destination, nor when are scheduled to leave.
Since 2001, around 2,000 Montagnards – as Vietnam’s highland ethnic minorities are collectively known – have fled to Cambodia due to alleged persecution by the Vietnamese authorities.
Koy Kuong said Montagnards “who have not been granted status” would be deported to their home country, though he did not mention the group that UNHCR said has been approved for emigration.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that those Montagnards who have not been sent to third countries would be subject to Cambodian immigration law.
By Sebastian Strangio - The Phnom Penh Post - February 15, 2011