Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vietnam welcomes closure of minority refugee centre in Cambodia


Hanoi - Vietnam has welcomed the closure of a refugee centre for Vietnamese Montagnards in Cambodia, state media reported Thursday.

The Montagnards are a predominately Christian minority who have fled alleged political and religious persecution by Vietnamese authorities.

'The Vietnamese government highly values Cambodia's closure of its temporary camp in Phnom Penh for ethnic minority people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam,' the state-run newspaper Viet Nam News quoted Nguyen Phuong Nga, spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying.

In December, the Cambodian government ordered the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to close the Montagnard refugee centre by January 1, 2011, but subsequently agreed to an extension of the deadline to February 15 to allow time to resettle or repatriate those remaining at the centre.

According to news reports, 10 of the remaining 20 refugees at centre will be resettled in third countries. The remainer failed to get refugee status and will be deported to Vietnam.

An agreement between the UN, Cambodia and Vietnam has governed the processing of Montagnard refugees since 2005, stipulating that they must be held at the UN centre in Phnom Penh temporarily before being transferred to a third country or voluntarily returning to Vietnam.

Activists have raised concerns about the closure, saying that the Cambodian government will screen future Montagnard asylum seekers under a procedure that does not meet international standards.

'Ongoing government crackdowns in Vietnam against Montagnard Christians make it imperative for Cambodia not to deny Montagnards their basic right to seek safe asylum,' Human Rights Watch said. 'Cambodia should provide safe asylum for Montagnards fleeing Vietnam's Central Highlands even after it closes the centre.'

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