PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia said Friday it will allow 62 Vietnamese refugees to stay in the country a few more weeks as a favour to the U.N. refugee agency but believes they no longer face any danger in Vietnam and can be sent back.
Cambodia previously gave the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees a New Year’s Day deadline to close a refugee compound in the Cambodian capital. But the country will now give the agency until Feb. 15 instead, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said.
“Vietnam is speeding up its economic growth. There is no war and no bombs, therefore Vietnam should not have any refugees,” Hor Namhong told reporters. “For the refugees who have not been granted asylum, they must be sent back to Vietnam. They cannot stay in Cambodia.”
The Foreign Ministry notified the UNHCR this month it planned to shut the housing compound Jan. 1 and send the residents home. Cambodia wants to close the compound in Phnom Penh to deter more arrivals.
The UNHCR pleaded for a little more time to help resettle the refugees.
“We’ll do them a favour. Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to postpone the deadline,” the foreign minister said.
Thousands of hill tribe people known as Montagnards fled to Cambodia since 2001, when Vietnam cracked down on protests against land confiscation and religious restrictions.
The current group is the last batch of asylum-seekers from 1,812 Vietnamese hill tribe people taken in by the UNHCR since 2006. The agency has resettled 999, mostly in the United States, and sent 751 home.
Many Montagnards sided with the United States during the Vietnam War, attend Protestant churches not recognized in Vietnam and are generally distrusted by the communist government.