By: Daniel Pye and Chhay Channyda
The UN met with the provincial governor of Ratanakkiri province yesterday to discuss the plight of a group of Montagnard asylum seekers who have been hiding out in the forest for weeks.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has sought to meet the Montagnard asylum seekers since early December after they fled Vietnam several weeks ago, claiming religious persecution.
Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency in Bangkok, said that the authorities had hindered the UN mission by offering “mixed messages” to the UN-government field team.
“There have been mixed messages from the authorities, which are affecting the UN-government team’s ability to proceed with seeking out the Montagnards,” she said. “We will keep trying to find a way to meet the group and facilitate access to assistance and asylum.”
The 13 ethnic Jarai Montagnards have been hiding out in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district since they arrived in Cambodia, and rights groups have grown increasingly concerned about their health.
Tan said that a meeting between Ratanakkiri Governor Thorng Savun was held yesterday afternoon, while OHCHR country representative Wan-Hea Lee said the UN “looks forward to seeing action taken toward” the Montagnards being given access to asylum, “which is becoming urgent”. Savun could not be reached yesterday.