An unexpected journey

5 Mar

By: Phak Seangly and Alice Cuddy, The Cambodia Daily, | March 05, 2015

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Jarai villager Dy Heun says he was deported with 36 Montagnards late last week. ADHOC

 

A Cambodian national who was arrested last week while helping 36 Montagnard asylum seekers reach the capital was himself deported alongside the group to Vietnam, where he was detained and interrogated for more than five days, he told the Post yesterday.

The disclosure came as Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak revealed that 10 other asylum seekers who have arrived in Phnom Penh in recent weeks, and have yet to have their claims registered or assessed, have been determined to be illegal immigrants.

Dy Heun, an ethnic Jarai villager, said he was arrested in the early hours of Thursday morning and sent immediately across the border into Vietnam. He was returned to Cambodia on Tuesday afternoon.

Heun told the Post that he was driving towards Phnom Penh with 36 Montagnards who had fled Vietnam when their vans were stopped by about 30 Vietnamese and Cambodian police officers.

Heun said the group was ordered out of the vehicles, and told to take off their jackets so that police could check for explosives. Their phones and wallets were seized.

Without being asked any questions, he was pushed into a waiting vehicle and driven away, he said. “I didn’t know where they were heading since it was night. At dawn, I just realised that they had taken us to Vietnam, and the vehicle kept running until it reached Gai Lai province.”

In Gai Lai, Heun said he was questioned by Vietnamese authorities. His wallet was returned to him, but $200 was missing, he said. Two mobile phones confiscated by police in Cambodia were not returned.

Heun claims that he was then taken to Ho Chi Minh City, where he was subjected to further interrogation.

“They fed me as usual and they did not torture me. They just interrogated me twice a day, repeating the questions, ‘Where do I come from?’, ‘Why was I in the vehicle?’” he said.

“I was so scared, since I was alone in their country, but I didn’t know how I could escape. I told the Vietnamese authorities that they can kill me if they want to, I know nothing.”

On Tuesday, Heun said, he was brought to the Bavet border checkpoint, where Cambodian police gave him a phone to call his family and the travel fare to get to Phnom Penh.

Despite the ordeal, he vowed yesterday to continue helping asylum seekers. “If asked, I will help them,” he said. “If they did not face difficulty in Vietnam, they would not run to Cambodia, leaving their homes there.”

David Manne, director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said that moves by Cambodia “to punish its own nationals or expose them to interrogation under detention by feared persecutors of another country for rendering such assistance raises further profound concerns” about the dangers facing refugees here.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said OHCHR would “look into the circumstances of his arrest, deportation and return in due course”.

But authorities have maintained that only the Montagnards were deported, denying any knowledge of Heun’s arrest.

While the 36 asylum seekers remain in Vietnam, 13 others have been officially granted refugee status, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

Despite comments earlier this week from government officials that the 13 would be allowed to remain in Cambodia, Sopheak said yesterday that third countries were still being sought.

“Offering refugee status to the 13 refugees does not mean giving a magnet to attract more to people to cross the border to dig cassava, or log [wood],” he said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees “is contacting the countries that have received previous refugees, but the ministry has yet to get a reply”.

According to Sopheak, 10 other asylum seekers have been determined as illegal immigrants, despite not yet being assessed. If they are “real Montagnards we get the information from the UN, like with the 13.… The UN has its own network, they know everything”, he said. “If they were Montagnards, we would accept them immediately … [but] UNHCR knew they were not.”

UNHCR did not respond to requests for comment in time for print.

Courtney Woods, assistant public affairs officer at the US Embassy, denied reports that the government had contacted the embassy about resettling the 13. But, Woods said, the US remains “deeply concerned” about the protection of asylum seekers and migrants.

In a statement last night, Amnesty International called on authorities to “immediately refrain from further violations of the principle of non-refoulement” and for the Vietnamese government to “refrain from retaliations against those refouled”.

Montagnard Minder Tells of Ordeal in Vietnam

5 Mar

By: Aun Pheap and Chris Mueller, The Cambodia Daily, | March 05, 2015

As police closed in on Montagnard asylum seekers hiding in the forests of Ratanakkiri province last week, Klan Hoeun, 42, said Wednesday that he knew he had to at least try to get the group to Phnom Penh, to safety.

“I needed to help them,” the Cambodian Jarai villager said during an interview in Phnom Penh.

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Klan Hoeun, an ethnic Jarai villager from Ratanakkiri province, speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh on Wednesday after returning from Vietnam, where he was sent after being arrested with 36 Montagnard asylum seekers last week. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)

“During the Pol Pot regime, I fled to Vietnam and the Montagnards helped us, provided food to us and convinced the government to help us,” he added.

After weeks of hiding out in small groups in the northern province, time was running out for 49 Montagnard asylum seekers who had fled into Cambodia from their homes in Vietnam.

Another ethnic Jarai villager, who aided the Montagnards after their arrival, said their situation had grown increasingly dire in recent weeks.

Food was running short, several were becoming dangerously ill and a nearby forest fire was making it even more difficult for them to evade police, said the villager, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“We were worried authorities would find those people soon, because there was no more forest for them to hide in because much of it had been burned,” he said on Monday.

Since the Montagnards—an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—began crossing the border in October, fleeing religious and political persecution by Hanoi, local authorities have repeatedly threatened them with arrest and deportation.

Out of desperation, the Montagnards and their Jarai minders decided that 36 of the group would take their chances and head to Phnom Penh. Once in the capital, they hoped the U.N. would help them apply for asylum at the Interior Ministry’s refugee department.

So at 9 p.m. on February 26, Mr. Hoeun, using two hired vans and drivers, began picking up the asylum seekers from their hiding places in separate locations in O’Yadaw, Bakeo and Lumphat districts.

With the 36 Montagnards in tow, he directed the drivers to head west through Kon Mom district.

Shortly after crossing into Kon Mom, traffic police at the O’Cheng checkpoint pulled the vans over.

“Police asked the drivers what we were transporting and the drivers said we were just transporting workers back to their homes,” Mr. Hoeun said. “Then they just let us go.”

But they didn’t make it far down the road. At about 1 a.m. on Friday, traffic police again stopped the vans, this time escorting them to the Vietnamese border.

“Police stopped the car again and arrested us,” Mr. Hoeun said. “The Montagnards were afraid, but we didn’t know what to do.”

After traveling some 100 km to the O’Yadaw border checkpoint, Mr. Hoeun said, police ordered him and the Montagnards to get out of the vans and walk through the checkpoint into Duc Co district of Vietnam’s Gia Lai province.

On Monday, provincial police chief Nguon Koeun denied the arrests ever took place.

Asked about the arrests Wednesday, Ratanakkiri provincial governor Thorn Savun threatened to file a complaint against a reporter.

“You should not act like a stupid man,” Mr. Savun said. “I need your name, ID card and personal telephone number…because I want to file a complaint against you for interrupting my private work and my rest time.”

Mr. Hoeun said he did not tell police that he was a Cambodian citizen because they did not ask.

“But I was afraid for my life” in Vietnam, he added.

Mr. Hoeun, who speaks fluent Vietnamese, said Vietnamese police then transferred the group to the Duc Co police station.

“They asked me why I got in a car with the Montagnards. I just told them I did not know the car had Montagnards in it,” he said.

Police then questioned each Montagnard individually.

“They didn’t hit them,” Mr. Hoeun said. “When we were detained at the police station we even ate instant noodles with the police.”

Yet after questioning, police herded the Montagnards into separate vehicles and drove off. Mr. Hoeun said he did not see them again.

He was placed in a cell in the Gia Lai provincial police station while police decided what to do with him.

“I stayed there for two nights, then they sent me to Saigon.”

Once in the city, Mr. Hoeun said he was held in another prison, where he spent two more nights, before being escorted to the Bavet border checkpoint and handed to Cambodian police Tuesday afternoon.

“Police asked me where I was coming from and I said, ‘I came from Vietnam after I was mistakenly arrested with Montagnards,’” he said, adding that the officers allowed him to use a telephone to call his wife and two children.

Mr. Hoeun said the police then put him on a Phnom Penh-bound tourist bus.

According to Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, there are currently 13 Montagnards still hiding in O’Yadaw district.

Mr. Thy said Wedmesday that he believed Vietnamese police were involved in the arrest of the Montagnards.

“I will investigate to find the truth,” he said Wednesday.

As for Mr. Hoeun, he said he had not yet decided when to return home, but was concerned that provincial authorities might target him if he does so.

“However, I will keep helping the Montagnards if it is possible for me to do it,” he said.

The fight for Areng continues

4 Mar

By: Koam Chanrasmey, The Cambodia Daily, | March 04, 2015

Areng Valley inhabitants opposed to the proposed dam construction say their fight will not cease after the deportation of Mother Nature co-founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson.

Gov’t Recognizes 13 Montagnards as Refugees

4 Mar

By: Chris Mueller and Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, | March 04, 2015

Less than a week after the arrest and deportation of 36 Montagnard asylum seekers in Ratanakkiri province, the interior minister on Tuesday recognized 13 others in Phnom Penh as refugees, the ministry’s spokesman said.

The spokesman, Khieu Sopheak, said Interior Minister Sar Kheng signed off on the applications of the 13 Montagnards on Tuesday afternoon, formally recognizing them as refugees.

“Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng approved that the 13 people should be provided with the status of refugees,” General Sopheak said.

“We are working with UNHCR to resettle them with a third country,” he added, referring to the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

Vivian Tan, regional press officer for UNHCR, said Cambodian authorities had told her office they were recommending the 13 Montagnards be recognized as refugees.

“UNHCR will discuss the next steps with the government in order to find the most suitable solution for this group,” Ms. Tan said in an email.

Gen. Sopheak said his ministry had also contacted the U.S. Embassy to talk about resettlement of the 13, and was waiting for a reply.

Asked whether the U.S. Embassy was discussing resettlement with the ministry, embassy spokesman Jay Raman declined to answer the question.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about the protection of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants,” he said.

However, Kerm Sarin, director of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department, said Tuesday evening he had not yet recommended that the 13 Montagnards be recognized as refugees.

“But if His Excellency Khieu Sopheak said this, he is right because he is the spokesman,” he said.

Mr. Sarin added that he could not provide details about the case of the 13, because it could put them at risk.

“The 13 people fled from their country to seek asylum, so we should hide information to keep them safe,” he said.

Contacted earlier in the day, Mr. Sarin said he was unable to speak because he was in a meeting with the U.S. Embassy.

Denise Coghlan, head of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Phnom Penh, said the government had two options now that the 13 had been recognized as refugees.

“They could integrate them into Cambodian society, possibly near other Jarai,” Ms. Coghlan said. “And the other option is to help them get resettlement.”

“Normally [in Cambodia], refugees seek sponsorship in another country where they might have friends or family, then they are interviewed by that country,” she added.

The 13 Montagnards—an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—arrived in Ratanakkiri in late October, fleeing what they said was religious and political persecution by the Vietnamese government.

Aided by ethnic Jarai villagers in O’Yadaw and Lumphat districts, the Montagnards evaded numerous attempts by local authorities to arrest and deport them.

Provincial authorities blocked a U.N.-Interior Ministry mission three times before it was able to reach the group in late December. The U.N. then transferred all 13 to Phnom Penh and handed them over to the ministry’s refugee department.

Beginning in early January, about 60 more Montagnards crossed into Cambodia in separate groups. Only 10 made it to Phnom Penh, where they are still waiting to apply for asylum.

According to the U.N. and local villagers, 36 of those Montagnards were arrested and deported to Vietnam last week while attempting to reach the capital.

On Monday, however, the provincial police chief denied that they were apprehended.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said a local Jarai guide was arrested along with the 36 and that his whereabouts were unknown.

“The Jarai man is still missing and we are now continuing to investigate,” Mr. Thy said Tuesday.

A Jarai villager, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said there were still 13 Montagnards hiding in O’Yadaw district.

The villager, who has helped all of the Montagnards that have crossed into the province since October, said Tuesday he was relieved to hear that the 13 in Phnom Penh had been recognized as refugees.

“I won’t have to worry about their safety anymore,” he said. “I think the 13 [in Phnom Penh] will be able to live now, because if authorities had arrested them and sent them back to their country, they could have been killed.”

Officials silent as Montagnard helper still missing

3 Mar

By:Phak Seangly, The Phnom Penh Post   March 03, 2015

A Cambodian man, who was allegedly arrested last week because of his efforts to help Montagnard asylum seekers, remained missing for a fifth day yesterday, with officials claiming no knowledge of his whereabouts.

Dy Heun was reportedly arrested in Ratanakkiri province in the early hours of Thursday morning, while driving towards Phnom Penh with 36 Montagnards who had fled alleged persecution in Vietnam.

While the asylum seekers were deported, it remained unclear last night what had happened to Heun.

Ouk Hay Seyla of the Interior Ministry’s General Immigration Department said he had attempted to contact provincial police about the case but had received no response.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak referred questions to the National Police, but spokesman Kirt Chantharith could not be reached.

Moeng Sineath, Rattanakiri Provincial Hall spokesman, said he was at a meeting and unable to speak to reporters.

With his whereabouts still a mystery, Heun’s family was growing more concerned, said his wife Sam Kanhar.

“His brother and aunts are crying and worrying about him.”

Gov’t issues own dispute data

3 Mar

By:May Titthara, The Phnom Penh Post   March 03, 2015

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People dismantle a dwelling in Sen Sok district during a land dispute. The Ministry of Land Management released its figures on land disputes recently, claiming that there has been a reduction of land dispute cases since 2013. Vireak Mai

After heaping criticism on rights group Licadho for allegedly exaggerating the seriousness of Cambodia’s land rights crisis last month, the government has released its own annual report on land disputes.

However, the report omits an overall figure for the number of disputes or affected families, making comparisons with Licadho’s findings difficult.

In a statement on February 19, Licadho said that land disputes had surged in 2014, after it received complaints involving more than 10,000 families. The figure had leapt from fewer than 3,500 in 2013, prompting condemnation from activists and claims the data were a “fabrication” from the government.

The government called on Licadho to submit its records for review, which the group did on Thursday.

In a letter the following day, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said that its own figures showed land disputes had significantly declined over the past few years, from 990 cases in 2013 to 750 cases last year, after the ministry “resolved” 240 cases. But its annual report released yesterday offered different figures still.

The government had ended 330 disputes covering a total area of 1,598 hectares and involving 2,432 families, it said. Twenty-four cases were dismissed and 62 withdrawn by the complainants, the report noted.

Ou Vordy, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, stressed the difficulty of assessing and mediating land disputes during the launch of the report yesterday.

“The process of solving the disputes takes a long time, because we need to conduct site inspections, and the land management of the dispute sides is unclear, and all of them want to win,” she said.

Bin Chhin, a deputy prime minister who includes land dispute resolution in his portfolio, said the government was hard at work to improve land management and distribution in the hopes of meeting its poverty reduction goals.

“We keep working towards land solutions through all of the national land management committees and administrative committees in order to reduce the number of land disputes,” he said.

But the government is working with insufficient data, according to Licadho.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at the rights group, said the government’s reliance only on official data from its agencies meant it was not in a position to assess the true scale of the current land rights crisis.

“I think the Ministry of Land Management should study our report and find resolutions for people who have suffered real land disputes,” he said.

Data released by Licadho last April showed that Cambodia had passed what it called a “shameful milestone”, with land conflicts having affected more than half a million people since 2000.

 

13 Montagnards recommended for asylum

3 Mar

By:Taing Vida, The Phnom Penh Post   March 03, 2015

Thirteen Montagnard asylum seekers who arrived in Phnom Penh in December after weeks spent in hiding in Ratanakkiri province have been recommended for refugee status by immigration officials.

Mom Sophanarith, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department, said on Tuesday that the 13 have met all the conditions to be eligible for refugee status but still need to be officially recognized.

“These 13 Montagnards have come and requested [refugee status] since last year, and we have learned that their request is true, unlike those [illegal Vietnamese immigrants] who come to dig cassava or for logging,” he said.

The group of 12 men and one woman, who arrived in Cambodia in October, claim to have fled religious persecution in Vietnam, where the northern minority hill tribes have been subjected to police raids, arrests, beatings and forced renunciations of their Christian faith.
Ten more Montagnards have also reached Phnom Penh in recent weeks, where they are awaiting registration.

Sophanarith confirmed that their requests for asylum are not yet being processed.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached on Tuesday. But he told the Post last month that even if the Montagnards are recognised as refugees, if they are rejected from third countries, they will be deported back to the very place they fled.

Dozens more Montagnards have been deported back to Vietnam in recent weeks, where they claim to have been interrogated and beaten by authorities, and put under house arrest.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, a group of 36 was detained and deported while attempting to reach the capital. An ethnic Jarai villager who was assisting them was also reportedly arrested and has not been seen since.

Authorities have denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

13 Montagnards Granted Asylum

3 Mar

 News by Khmer Times/Donald Lee and Nov Sivutha, Tuesday, 03 March 2015

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Some of the 13 Montagnards granted asylum being aided earlier by UN monitors.

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Thirteen Montagnards who fled Vietnam last year have been recognized as political asylum seekers by the Interior Ministry.
The 13 refugees are now awaiting official approval of their status. They were brought to Phnom Penh with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
All 13 asylum seekers were found to be Vietnamese Montagnards after investigation. The Interior Ministry said their claim for political asylum fulfilled the main requirements needed to attain refugee status in the Kingdom.
But the Interior Ministry has been forced to defend itself over the deportation of over 40 individuals in Ratanakiri province last week. The ministry has denied that the 40 were Montagnards seeking asylum.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed that Ratanakiri provincial authorities deported more than 40 individuals claiming to be asylum seekers last week.
Reports have been circulating of possible abuse suffered by those deported by authorities in Cambodia or Vietnam. UN officials were forcibly barred from traveling to Ratanakiri and were unable to meet with the individuals who were deported.
“OHCHR does not have access to the persons who were deported and thus cannot comment on whether they were harmed during transport,” OHCHR spokesperson Wan-Hea Lee told Khmer Times.
The Interior Ministry has maintained that the people caught crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border in the remote O’Yadaw district of Ratanakiri province are economic migrants crossing the frontier illegally.
“The immigration activity here consists of illegal Vietnamese migrants crossing the border into Ratanakiri province,” Uk Hai Sela, head of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, told Khmer Times. “There aren’t any Montagnards [in this case]. We don’t see any evidence that they are Montagnards—so those people are Vietnamese, and they possess IDs [stating] Vietnamese citizenship.”
He added that it’s the provincial authorities’ role to uphold border control laws and apprehend any group found crossing the border without any proper legal documentation. The refugees are arrested, questioned and the government “deports them back.”
According to the Interior Ministry, individuals found to be illegal migrants are only sent to the ministry’s immigration department for processing when the person is found to have stayed in Cambodia for a considerable amount of time. But in the case of individuals caught in the act of crossing the border illegally, the “provincial police can deport them back,” said Mr. Sela.
Rights groups have contended that the Cambodian government should follow proper protocols and procedures, and allow anyone claiming to be an asylum seeker to have safe transport to Phnom Penh to have their refugee claims verified and processed.
“The UN cannot speculate on the reasons why instructions were not transmitted from the central government to local authorities, or at what level of government the decision was taken to refoule these individuals,” said Wan-Hea Lee.

Areng Valley Activist Denies Illegal Logging Allegations

3 Mar

By: Khuon Narim , The Cambodia Daily, | March 03, 2015

An environmental activist in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley on Monday denied building an ecotourism information center with illegally logged wood after he was summoned to the local court to answer questions over alleged forestry crimes.

Ven Vorn, 36—who is ethnic Chong and worked closely with recently deported Spanish activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson to oppose a planned hydropower dam in the valley—has been summoned to appear before the Koh Kong Provincial Court on March 10.

Despite the summons stating clearly that the Forestry Administration’s Koh Kong cantonment filed a complaint against Mr. Vorn in January, the cantonment chief, Oum Meakeary, denied any involvement. Rights workers with knowledge of the case say the administration accuses him of cutting down trees inside a protected forest for the information center.

“I did not commit what I am accused of,” Mr. Vorn said Monday.

“The timber I bought from local residents for building a community office for ecotourism.”

The activist said construction of the center began in January and finished Tuesday, using just 10 cubic meters of wood and at a cost of $1,500. Mr. Vorn said he would heed the summons.

“I am not afraid of being arrested because I acted in the public’s interest, not my personal interest.”

Police Deny Arrest of 36 Montagnards

3 Mar

By: Chris Mueller and Aun Pheap , The Cambodia Daily, | March 03, 2015

The chief of police in Ratanakkiri province on Monday denied that authorities arrested 36 Montagnards, who the U.N. and local villagers say were deported to Vietnam last week while attempting to reach Phnom Penh to apply for asylum.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Sunday that the group was arrested and deported on Wednesday.

An ethnic Jarai villager, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the group was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning in Ratanakkiri’s Kon Mom district. The villager, who had been aiding the Montagnards since their arrival, said another local Jarai man was also arrested as he attempted to lead the group to Phnom Penh.

On Monday, however, Ratanakkiri police chief Nguon Koeun denied that the Montagnards—an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands—were arrested by officers in the province.

“We have not arrested these 36 people,” Mr. Koeun said. “The information about the arrests is not true.”

Asked if police were searching for any Montagnards in the province, Mr. Koeun said, “I don’t know,” then hung up on a reporter.

Provincial spokesman Moeung Sineath said that he had not been told whether the 36 were arrested.

“But I think that our Ratanakkiri provincial authorities did not arrest those people, including the Khmer Jarai villager,” he said.

Mr. Sineath said last week that Lumphat district police arrested four other Montagnards and passed them to Vietnamese authorities on February 24.

Asked whether Cambodia had handed over the Montagnards to Vietnam, the deputy spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Pham Thu Hang, would not say.

“Relevant agencies of Vietnam are verifying the information,” Ms. Hang said in an email.

“However, it is noted that, like in other countries, those who immigrate illegally will be dealt [with] in accordance with legal regulations of related countries and…international law,” she added.

Since the latest wave of Montagnards began arriving in Cambodia in late October, provincial- and district-level officials in Ratanakkiri have repeatedly said that they were not legitimate asylum seekers and threatened to deport them if they were found.

On Monday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Cambodia had not deported any Montagnards—and claimed there had never been any in the country.

“We are deporting illegal immigrants only,” General Sopheak said.

“They don’t have documents. We are doing the same as other countries if people come without passports,” he added, before hanging up.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, which Cambodia signed in 1992, explicitly states that asylum seekers may have to break immigration laws and should not be punished for doing so.

Vivian Tan, regional press officer for the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees, said in an email that signatories to the convention are legally bound to abide by it.

“Even if a country has not signed the Convention, refoulement—sending people back to a place where their lives or freedoms could be in danger—is prohibited by customary international law,” Ms. Tan said.

“There is no lawful excuse for the reported deportations,” she added.

Andrea Giorgetta, head of the Asia Desk at the International Federation for Human Rights, also said the deportation of the Montagnards was a clear violation of international law, but that Cambodia would not face any sanctions for ignoring its obligations.

“The refugee convention has no enforcing mechanism so they don’t face anything under it,” Mr. Giorgetta said. “It is unfortunate, but that’s how international law works for the time being.”

All of the Montagnards who have crossed into Cambodia since October have claimed to be escaping religious and political persecution in Vietnam.

Beginning in 2001, thousands of Montagnards fled to Cambodia after Hanoi violently suppressed land- and religious-rights demonstrations. About 2,000 were resettled in the U.S., while the rest were deported.

In 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a scathing report describing how Vietnamese authorities were systematically targeting Montagnard Protestant churches and arresting anyone deemed a threat.

Those arrested were reportedly tortured, the report says.

In an email Monday, Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said it was difficult to assess the circumstances facing the Montagnards in the Central Highlands.

“The reason is that the Vietnam government very strictly controls access to those areas for all foreigners, whether it be UN, diplomats, journalists, or NGOs, and keeps Montagnard communities under close surveillance by the police and security forces,” he said.

“So to put it frankly, many areas of the Central Highlands continue to be in de facto lockdown by state authorities, which helps explain why Montagnards feel they must flee across the border to Cambodia.”

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