Montagnards in Phnom Penh having just been denied refugee status by Cambodia (Montagnard Assistance Project)
Montagnards in Phnom Penh having just been denied refugee status by Cambodia (Montagnard Assistance Project)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Cambodia not to carry out its threat to imminently return a group of ethnic Montagnards to Vietnam, saying “they would face severe persecution on political and religious grounds”.

HRW also criticised Cambodia’s Interior Ministry for denying the asylum claims of 29 Montagnards and failing to cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has made efforts to resettle the group.

“Cambodia’s reputation as a regional leader in protecting the rights of refugees will be left in tatters” if it forces the Montagnards back to Vietnam, said Phil Robertson, HRW’s Deputy Asia Director.

Cambodia’s decision to deport some of the Montagnard asylum seekers was suspended because of the UN’s intervention, Houl Sarith, head of the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s Application Office for Asylum, said in August.

Because Cambodia is not a signatory to the different international treaties that deal with the status of refugees, it regards Montagnards as undocumented economic migrants. There are no accurate figures showing how many Montagnard asylum seekers there are in Cambodia, but thousands are said to have fled Vietnam to neighbouring countries since 2001.