Accessibility links

Vietnam to Repatriate Refugees Under UNHCR Plan - 2002-01-22

Vietnam will allow the repatriation of about 1,000 hill tribe refugees from Cambodia, following an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The deal rests on the UNHCR's ability to monitor the returnee's safety.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Vietnam and Cambodia have agreed on the voluntary repatriation of up to 1,000 refugees who fled Vietnam last year. The plan was signed this week in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, says two earlier attempts to arrange a return failed, in part because of U.N. requirements that its staff monitor the return. Hanoi this time has agreed to allow UNHCR monitoring.

Mr. Janowski says he expects most of the Vietnamese to go home, if all goes smoothly, although the first group will not depart for at least two weeks.

The refugees are members of hill tribes in Vietnam's central highlands. They fled to Cambodia last year after Hanoi cracked down on protests against moves to plant coffee in the tribes' forests.

Hanoi also restricted the Protestant churches to which many tribe members belong. The highland communities for centuries have resisted central government control.

The official Vietnamese News Agency says Hanoi will ensure the safety of the returnees, and that they will not face discrimination. The Human Rights Watch group in New York, however, has reported in the past that systematic persecution of minorities in Vietnam continues. The group calls on the UNHCR to keep refugee camps in Cambodia open, to accommodate others fleeing persecution in Vietnam.