Friday, 18 February 2011 15:02 Sebastian Strangio
Vietname has praised this week’s closure of a United Nations refugee safe house in Phnom Penh, following the voluntary return of 10 Montagnard asylum seekers from Cambodia on Wednesday.
In comments reported by Vietnamese state media, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Hanoi appreciated the cooperation of the Cambodian government, which ordered the site closed in late November.
“The Vietnamese Government highly values the Cambodian Government’s close collaboration with Vietnam and the United Nations agency for refugees (UNHCR) over the years in settling the number of people in the temporary camp,” she said.
The comments came as 10 Montagnards from the Sen Sok district site returned to Vietnam yesterday after having claims for asylum rejected by UNHCR. “They are back in their village now,” said Kitty McKinsey, the agency’s regional spokeswoman.
Of the 75 who were living at the Sen Sok district site at the time the closure was announced, 54 have already departed for Canada and the United States. McKinsey said one more person was awaiting travel to the US as a migrant, while the remaining 10 refugees were being housed “elsewhere” in the city pending their emigration from Cambodia.
The closure of the site marks the end of a 2005 agreement between Cambodia, Vietnam and UNHCR governing the processing of Montagnard asylum seekers.
Rights groups say that continuing persecution of Montagnard Christians in Vietnam made it “imperative” that Cambodia continue to guarantee their right to seek asylum.
Nguyen from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry dismissed the concerns, saying ethnic minority returnees have been “assisted to stabilise their life and reintegrate into the community”.
McKinsey said that since 2005, UNHCR has conducted more than 25 monitoring missions to check on Montagnard asylum seekers who have returned from abroad, pledging that the agency would follow up on the new arrivals.