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Rights group appeals to Cambodia to save Christian refugees

Government accused of failing to cooperate with UNHCR to resettle two dozen Vietnamese Montagnards

Rights group appeals to Cambodia to save Christian refugees

Cambodian police transport at least 100 Montagnards in buses back to Vietnam from Phnom Penh in this file photo. More than two dozen Vietnamese Montagnards face persecution after being told they would be sent back to Vietnam on Sept. 15. (Photo by Khem Sovannara/AFP)

September 13, 2017

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An international human rights group has called on Cambodia not to send a group of Christian refugees back to neighboring Vietnam, saying they would likely face persecution by authorities.

"The Cambodian government should not carry out its threats to imminently return a group of ethnic Montagnards to Vietnam," Human Rights Watch said Sept. 12.

Twenty-nine Montagnards — a mostly Christian ethnic minority from Vietnam's Central Highlands — were told on Sept. 7 that their applications for asylum had been rejected and they would be deported in 15 days.

They are among 36 Montagnards that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is seeking to relocate to a third country.

Human Rights Watch accused Cambodia's Interior Ministry of having wrongly denied the claims of the 29 Christian refugees and failing to cooperate with the UNHCR's efforts to resettle them.

The Cambodian government has not carried out a joint review process under which the UNHCR was to join a review of the government's first-instance rejection decision.

"Under no circumstances should Cambodia force these refugees back to Vietnam, where they would face severe persecution on political and religious grounds," said Phil Robertson, deputy Human Rights Watch's Asia director.

"If the government forces them back to Vietnam, Cambodia's reputation as a regional leader in protecting the rights of refugees will be left in tatters," he added.

According to Human Rights Watch, the asylum seekers said they had received threats that they would be imprisoned if they ever tried to flee abroad.

The rights group said in April, a Montagnard asylum-seeker who was returned to Vietnam from Cambodia was detained and interrogated for 12 days by Vietnamese authorities.

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