Many of Vietnam’s Christians come from indigenous tribal groups (Open Doors, 2010)

Thirteen Montagnards are being sent back to Vietnam, after they were refused asylum in Cambodia.

Thousands of Montagnards have fled their country to seek asylum in neighbouring countries since 2001, citing land expropriation and religious persecution. Many of the indigenous group, from Vietnam’s highlands, are Christians.

The 13 were part of a larger group of 16 whose asylum applications were turned down by the Cambodian government in June, Grace Bui, a volunteer with the US-based rights group Montagnards Assistance Project (MAP), told Radio Free Asia. The government postponed the deporting of all 16 “because of public disapproval”, she added.

Houl Sarith, head of the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s Application Office for Asylum, confirmed that their plan to repatriate all 16 “was suspended because the UN protested against our decision to not offer refugee status for those people”.

MAP said there are around 20 Montagnard asylum seekers still in Cambodia, but other sources say there could be as many as 49. The fate of fleeing Montagnards often depends on whether a country is a signatory to the different international treaties that deal with the status of refugees. They often end up in nearby countries like Cambodia and Thailand, where their refugee status is not recognised and where they will be regarded as undocumented economic migrants and left vulnerable to forced repatriation.