Force Repatriation of the Degar Refugees to Vietnam Authority Must be Stopped

Since 1975, Montagnard/Degar people have been gravely suffering persecution from the communist Vietnamese authorities. Hanoi has violated from religious rights to human rights, and uses policy of discrimination, genocide, and racism against the Montagnard/Degar of Central Highland by form of violation of economic rights through the confiscation of ancestral land belonging to Degar people – Degars’ lands are confiscated and given to more privileged ethnic groups from big cities of Vietnam. The Hanoi also uses inhuman policy to stop the spread of religion, particularly Christianity in highland provinces, through the persecution of evangelist priests and believers. The Degar people have been victim of deaths, jailing, disappearances, beatings, and poisonings.

Bear in mind that the huge two-week peaceful demonstrations on February 2-2001 of over 20 thousand protesters in the provinces of Daklak and Gia-lai were the result of long standing abuses of indigenous Degar people’s rights by the Vietnamese. Hanoi sent its army and tanks to oppress this peaceful demonstration. Since then the Vietnamese government has increased its army and security police to control the central highland. Many protesters were arrested, among them Christian pastors and believers of Evangelical church. As a result, many Degar people were on the run from the Vietnamese police. Many were captured and no one knows what had happened to them afterward. Others managed to escape to Cambodia and seek protection from outside world communities that still respect the human rights. Numerous times the refugees were sent back to Vietnam before they could be under the protection of UNHCR because they were hunted like animals, for the Vietnam communists offered a bounty for each captured Montagnard/Degar refugee.

Since the demonstration in February last year, the Hanoi has tried but failed to link these students, farmers to FULRO, a movement which they (Hanoi) claimed to be defunct. The Hanoi was unable to bear the humiliation from the well-organized demonstration that caught them by surprise, therefore, Hanoi government ordered more than 13 regiments of army to suppress this peaceful demonstration. Every one with a right-minded would know that the reason many Degar people cross the border to Cambodia is to escape the prosecution by the Vietnamese. The Degar people have been under oppression long before the demonstration occurred earlier last year, long before Montagnard Foundation, Inc was founded, and that the oppression of Degar have been going on since the Vietnamese began settle in central highland. Furthermore, the Vietnamese government is so irascibly angered at the Montagnard Foundation, Inc. Hanoi has blamed the unrest on agitation by “U.S.-based exiles” particularly, Montagnard Foundation, Inc. Nevertheless, Montagnard Foundation, Inc again make its point clearly that its position in this situation is NOT to create the refugee, burden our neighboring country Cambodia.

Ironically to say the least why is it a handful of Degar people cross the border to Cambodia to seek protection from world communities, they come directly from their own home where their lives and freedom have been threatened, to escape the prosecution are labeled “illegal refugee”, “bad element people”, yet thousand of Vietnamese are now in the Cambodia illegally, many are crossing the border monthly to Cambodia, and many Vietnamese who continuing to stay in Cambodia after the defeat of the Khmer- Rouge are accepted as a good deed?

When the Vietnamese demand swift returns of Degar refugees, the UNHCR and Cambodia seem eagerly to comply, even if that means violat ing the UNHCR’s own policy on voluntary repatriation. Doesn’t 1951 Refugee Convention also apply to Degar refugees? We may ask.

Vietnam’s communist authorities allowed journalists to the central highlands Monday 19 February for only the second time since the army clamped down on a wave of protests by the Degar people early last year. Even though, very few journalists were allow to visit, every where they went, every one they met they learned the truth about the living condition of the Degar people, the lie, the manipulation of the Vietnamese government- as we know it, Vietnamese communist regime is a master of deception . Nevertheless, when Hanoi yield to the pressure from world communities and allowed the media to interview the Degar villagers, the truth of the evil Hanoi revealed itself. The responses from the villager ( see Reuters news report ) said it all.

The visit by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) early this year were part of a “hasty, secret deal” between Hanoi, Phnom Penh, and UNCHR. There were no indication that the UNHCR personnel had any freedom of investigate while security agent guide the UNHCR where to go and whom to talk to. A two-day visit without meeting the real people whose lives are being terrorized, threatened. UNHCR needs to be independent in its actions and not allow itself to be manipulated by any outside forces, especially the Hanoi regime. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) must stop turning the Degar refugees over to Vietnam authority.

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