Montagnard Christians Forced Back to Vietnam

Around 100 Montagnards in Cambodia were forcefully returned to Vietnam Wednesday morning

Around 100 Montagnards in Cambodia were forcefully returned to Vietnam Wednesday morning, according to a U.S.-based human rights watchdog group.

Using electric batons, Cambodian police pushed men, women and children onto buses that hauled them off to Vietnam, where they may face arrest and other abuse, Washington, DC-based Refugees International reported.

Although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determined that these individuals did not meet the requirements for refugee status, Refugees International and other international agencies have been calling for a re-screening.

“Refugees International believes that many of these Montagnards have legitimate fears of being persecuted in Vietnam and should have received refugee status, thereby permitting them to remain in Cambodia or be resettled to another country,” the group stated.

According to the organization, the group that was sent back Wednesday was part of some 700 Montagnards who fled from the Central Highlands in Vietnam to Cambodia in 2004 after a reported Easter weekend crackdown against the ethnic minority Christians. Other agencies reported that some of largely Christian hill tribe also belonged to the group that first arrived en masse in Cambodia from Vietnam's Central Highlands in 2001 because of land confiscation and religious persecution.

Refugees International, other human rights watchdog groups, Christian persecution monitors, and advocacy groups report that Vietnamese authorities have severely limited their Christian religious practices.

Often dubbed "America's forgotten allies" for siding with the United States in the war, this ethnic minority has been subject to harassment, land confiscation and other forms of discrimination.

Now, especially, there are concerns over the treatment that these people may receive after having been deported. In recent months, Human Rights Watch has documented cases of arrest and beatings of Montagnards who returned to Vietnam. Although the Government of Vietnam has made a commitment to allow a Vietnamese staff person of UNHCR to monitor the return to the Central Highlands, Refugees International pointed out that there is no guarantee that UNHCR will get the access needed to interview the returnees independently and gauge how they are being treated. The group suggested that any UNHCR contact with the returnees would be closely monitored by the Vietnamese authorities.

In addition, Refugees International pointed out that Cambodian authorities had limited or prohibited journalists and human rights workers from monitoring the return Wednesday, and that access in Vietnam continues to be problematic.

The group stated that international agencies must be allowed access to the Montagnards both in Cambodia and Vietnam to ensure that receive the protection afforded to them by the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.

It therefore recommended that:

• UNHCR and human rights organizations be permitted to monitor the border between Cambodia and Vietnam; and
• UNHCR, human rights organizations and the U.S. Government be allowed unfettered access to the Central Highlands to monitor and interview returnees.