Sanjay Gathia, JRS-AP Regional Information Advocacy Officer; JRS- Asia Pacific Issue 75, PO Box 49, Sanampao Post Office, Bangkok 10406, Thailand; 28/11/09
Bao (name changed) spoke softly. I had to lean forward and strain my ears to listen to him. He was the only one among the group who could understand English easily and spoke it with some fluency. He and ten other men and three women were a group of Montagnards from Vietnam who had arrived by way of Cambodia in Thailand to seek protection. They were caught by police in the border area and then sent to the Bangkok IDC to be processed as cases of illegal entry into Thailand. They were now held in detention for one year already. The term ‘Montagnard’ is a carryover from the French colonial period in Vietnam. It means ‘mountain people’ in French and describes several tribal peoples from the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
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Montagnards were persecuted by the Vietnamese government as a minority due to historical events relating to the Vietnam War and also because they are Christians. Sometimes
the young men have to flee their homes in Vietnam because of this ethnic and religious persecution, forcing them even to leave their families Behind. Montagnard refugees in Thailand fear being sent back to Cambodia where they might not be granted protection but rather be deported again to Vietnam. There, many then disappear without a trace. Bao shared his fear, which he said that all of them shared too, was that they would be sent back to Vietnam and never see the light of the day again.
“We all are also worried about our families, their well being and the health of our little ones. We can only hope that our respective family members are still alive and we can meet them someday in a safe place without any fear…”, he stated further.
Bao explained that while in detention in Bangkok these asylum seekers had written an appeal to the UNHCR seeking protection as refugees. They had not yet heard of any progress from UNHCR and the agency’s last interview with this group had been a long while ago. Lack of information was causing this group to be concerned about the slow progress of their case: they were worried that not all of them have been interviewed and that there had been not follow-up yet from the UNHCR. They also had not been able to contact their families left behind in Vietnam.
I was asked to help them with these issues and I promised that I would contact the UNHCR office and let them know any new information concerning them.
JRS colleagues have subsequently informed me that due to a recent policy change Montagnards would not be deported to Cambodia. But a durable solution still has to be found for these soft spoken young Montagnards who otherwise face indefinite detention in Thailand.