Calls for protection of refugees in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) - Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) chairman Arash Bordbar urged the government to “safeguard the rights of all refugees inside its borders”.

Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) chairman Arash Bordbar
wrote an open letter to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, urging the
government to “safeguard the rights of all refugees inside its borders”.

In the letter that was posted on Monday on APRRN’s website, Bordbar
particularly called for the protection of the “long-persecuted”
Montagnard ethnic group, which comprises Christian minorities hailing
from Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

Bordbar said most of the Montagnards “face severe persecution in their home country of Vietnam”.

He said that returning Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia back to
Vietnam would “place them in serious violations of their fundamental
human rights by the Vietnamese government”.

By repatriating Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam, Bordbar
continued, “Cambodia undermined its commitment to national and
international laws to protect the basic right of refugees”.

He was referring to the likes of Sub-Decree No 224/2009 on Procedure
for Recognition as a Refugee or Providing Asylum Rights to Foreigners in
the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The sub-decree stipulates that a refugee “shall not be expelled or
returned in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where
his or her life, freedom or rights would be threatened on account of his
or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or
particular political opinion”.

Moreover, Bordbar also reiterated that “Cambodia is a party to both
the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the United
Nations Convention Against Torture”.

Under these conventions, the Kingdom has “clear legal obligations not
to return individuals to countries where they may be at risk of
persecution or torture”.

“We encourage Cambodia to adhere to their obligations,” the letter reads.

Four Montagnard asylum seekers were reportedly repatriated to Vietnam in mid-June, said the network.

Bordbar wrote: “This action created significant anxiety and fear
among others in the Montagnard community that they too could be forced
to return.”

Human rights observers reportedly said that the Montagnards faced all
types of persecution, including “intimidation, beatings, arbitrary
arrest, prolonged detention and restrictions on practising their
religion, while some refugees who were sent to Vietnam from Cambodia
have disappeared without any traces”.

On why Cambodia repatriated the Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam,
government spokesperson Phay Siphan said “the Kingdom did not interfere
with other countries’ internal affairs”.

He reiterated that the Montagnards used to live in the mountainous
areas and “were used by the US to fight against Vietnam’s communist

Siphan also suggested that they did not seek asylum in other
countries due to economic and freedom restrictions, but rather because
they were used as “political pawns in the US foreign policy”.

“Cambodia’s laws prohibit interference with the internal affairs of
other countries, and the refugees are the responsibility for the UN,” he
told The Post on Wednesday.

Last year, a group of Montagnard refugees were reportedly granted
asylum status by the US. They travelled across Cambodia to reach

About 12,000 Montagnards live in the southern state of North Carolina in the US, the report said.

In March last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Montagnards did not exist in Cambodia.

“We respect all minorities such as Jarai, Steang, Phnong, but we have
never had Montagnards,” the prime minister said before supporters in

The APRRN is a network of 400 civil society organisations and
individuals from 29 countries committed to advancing the rights of
refugees across the region.