Cambodia Eases Refugee Restrictions

( [email protected] ) Jul 01, 2004 11:22 AM EDT

Cambodia has eased restrictions imposed on refugees fleeing persecution in Vietnam and has allowed the UN to set up two offices along the Vietnam/Cambodia border to process refugee claims. According to the Voice of the Martyrs, this is a significant change from the policies Cambodia has been following in recent months, when Cambodian officials would arrest those attempting to cross the border and turn them over to Vietnamese authorities.

On Easter Saturday, peaceful demonstrations were held throughout Vietnam, protesting the government's treatment of the Christians from the central highlands belonging to an Vietnamese ethnic minority known as the Montagnards. It is reported that a number of Montagnard Christians were killed when police began beating and shooting the demonstrators.

Following the attack, where at least ten people were killed, hundreds of Montagnards fled to Cambodia. However, under an agreement with the Vietnamese government, the authorities there have been returning the refugees to Vietnam. Those who were returned are imprisoned, tortured or killed. According to the Cambodia Daily, one hundred and sixty refugees fleeing the renewed violence have been arrested at the border and deported back to Vietnam.

One Cambodian soldier told AP, "we just arrest and deport them back, but we don't know what happens to them¡¦. We heard the regular people would just be detained by Vietnam, but the leaders of the group would be executed." Reportedly, Cambodian police who return refugees fleeing to Cambodia receive a cash bounty.

However, under the new agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations, Montagnard refugees will be now be issued identification cards and relocated to non-hostile countries rather than being deported back to Vietnam.

This is great news for the Montagnard people from the highlands of Vietnam who have faced persecution from the Vietnamese authorities for years. According to the Voice of the Martyrs, persecution in Vietnam is most intense for the ethnic minorities, especially the Montagnards from the hill country. Recently there appears to be a renewed crackdown on these people. Despite the persecution, instead of being destroyed, the church in Vietnam is growing and becoming stronger. Christians now make up almost ten percent of the population.