26 January 2005 The United Nations refugee agency has signed an agreement with Viet Nam and Cambodia to allow a group of about 750 Montagnard refugees and asylum-seekers to either re-settle in a third country or return to their homeland in Viet Nam.
Under the agreement, signed yesterday in Hanoi after two days of talks, the Government of Viet Nam promised to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that any returnees will not be prosecuted, discriminated against or otherwise punished.
Ethnic Montagnards, who come from the central highlands region of Viet Nam, have crossed over into neighbouring Cambodia since at least 2001, partly because of long-running land disputes with authorities in Viet Nam. They have been living in temporary, UNHCR-administered sites in Cambodia.
The agreement means the Montagnards who want to re-settle in a third country will be given help to do so quickly, while any refugees or asylum-seekers who want to return voluntarily to Viet Nam will be repatriated.
Anyone who currently does not want to re-settle in a third country or return to Viet Nam will have a month after their refugee status is determined to choose between the two options. If they still cannot decide, Cambodia, Viet Nam and UNHCR pledged to help them return to Viet Nam “in an orderly and safe fashion and in conformity with national and international laws,” according to the agreement.
UNHCR Director of International protection Erika Feller stressed that the agreement covers only the 750 Montagnards living in Cambodia and does not automatically apply to any Montagnards who may flee Viet Nam in the future.
“However, if it works the way we hope it will work, then this agreement will be a basis for the future,” she said.