Home > Local News, Politic > PM defends closure of refugee safehouse

PM defends closure of refugee safehouse

Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended the government’s decision to
shutter a United Nations-administered refugee centre next month,
denying that Vietnamese Montagnards housed at the site will face
persecution if they are returned to their home country.

In a
January 14 letter addressed to six US congressmen, a copy of which was
obtained Tuesday, Hun Sen said Cambodia had already extended its “full
cooperation” in the resettlement of Montagnards, under a 2005 agreement
with Vietnam and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The
Montagnards failing to gain refugee status and repatriated to Vietnam
have been reintegrated into society without any oppression or
persecution. They have also been given support under the development
projects implemented by the Vietnamese local authorities,” he wrote.

“Furthermore,
since Vietnam is now at peace and has neither internal conflict not
persecution against Montagnards, there is no reason for more
Montagnards to seek asylum in Cambodia.”

Hun Sen wrote that the
2005 MoU had originally been designed to process the 750 Montagnards
then seeking asylum in the country, but that “many more cases” had
since been dealt with.

Last month, the government announced
that the centre, in Sen Sok district, would be closed by January 1,
warning that newly-arrived Montagnards at the site would be deported to
Vietnam. The deadline was eventually extended to February 15 following
a request from UNHCR.

Six US congressmen wrote to Hun Sen on December 22, expressing concern over the planned closure of the site.

Since
2001, about 2,000 Montagnards – as Vietnam’s highland ethnic minorities
are known – have fled to Cambodia due to official crackdowns inside
Vietnam. Last month, Human Rights Watch stated that Montagnards
continue to face persecution at the hands of Vietnamese authorities.

“Montagnards
continue to face arrest and imprisonment in Vietnam, primarily for
belonging to independent Christian house churches that the government
alleges are using religion to forward a political agenda,” HRW stated.
The group estimated that approximately 300 Montagnard Christians were
now serving prison sentences for their religious or political beliefs.

The
centre contained 76 Montagnards when the closure was announced, 62 of
which were registered refugees qualified for resettlement in third
countries. The status of the remaining 14 is not clear.

Khieu
Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment
Tuesday, though he has said previously that any Montagnards who have
not been granted refugee status by the February 15 deadline will be
repatriated.

Denise Coughlan, director of Jesuit Refugee
Services, said UNHCR officials are now working closely with one foreign
government to speed up the resettlement of recognised refugees ahead of
the deadline.

She said she was “happy” to see the centre
closed, describing it as a “detention centre”, but called for all
future Montagnard asylum seekers to have their claims heard fairly.

“What
is really important is that the process of those seeking asylum is
upheld, and that the Cambodian government will treat any future
Montagnard asylum seekers the same way as any other asylum seekers,”
she said.

Cambodia is one of only two countries in Southeast Asia to have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.

 
Phnom Penh Post
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Categories: Local News, Politic
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