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Cablegate: Unhcr Briefs On Montagnards

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000991

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV AND PRM, BANGKOK FOR REFUGEE
COORDINATOR, GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PREF VM CB HUMANR ETMIN
SUBJECT: UNHCR BRIEFS ON MONTAGNARDS

Reftels: A) Hanoi 215, B) Phnom Penh 602, C) Hanoi 921

1. (SBU) Summary: UNHCR Regional Representative Hasim Utkan
told the Ambassador April 26 that the Tripartite Memorandum
of Understanding (MOU) (Ref A) is helping to speed the
resettlement of asylum-seeking Central Highlanders currently
in Cambodia. The UNHCR is still faced with the problems of
"refuseniks," who are offered asylum abroad but will not
leave Cambodia. The UNHCR believes that the return of these
individuals to Vietnam would not constitute refoulement.
However, it is trying to assuage concern voiced by the
refuseniks about family members remaining in Vietnam, while
making clear that a return home is the likely outcome if
they continue to refuse resettlement. The UNHCR hopes this
will be enough to convince the refuseniks to make a decision
to go abroad or return to Vietnam. The GVN continues to
reject a monitoring trip to previous returnees and has not
agreed to UNHCR requests to place an expatriate staff member
in Hanoi. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Utkan began the April 26 meeting by briefing the
Ambassador on the breakdown of Central Highlands ethnic
minority migrants being processed in Phnom Penh. According
to the UNHCR's figures, there are 667 persons under its
protection divided among four sites in Phnom Penh. Of
these, 498 persons have received recognition as refugees, 26
have first instance rejections, 22 have cases pending, 17
have been identified as "humanitarian cases" due largely to
family ties in the United States and 104 have had their
asylum claims rejected. Among the 498 given recognition,
137 are the so-called refuseniks. In addition, since the
MOU was signed, 35 individuals have been voluntarily
repatriated to Vietnam, 82 have been resettled abroad, and
18 have been identified to be Cambodian. Utkan noted that
there have been forty-two new arrivals since the signing of
the MOU, although the majority of these had already crossed
the border and were hiding in the Cambodian jungle when the
MOU was signed. (Post will fax to BCLTV UNHCR's fact
sheet.)

3. (SBU) In all of 2004 there were only 78 individuals
settled abroad, so resolving 82 cases in less than three
months shows that the MOU process is effective, Utkan
claimed. Looking ahead, the UNHCR expects to resettle 29
Montagnards to Finland and nine to Canada in May, and an
undetermined number to Finland and the United States in
June. It is also seeking to expand resettlement to other
countries. New Zealand will send a mission to Phnom Penh to
view processing, with an eye to accepting cases in 2006.
The United Kingdom considered accepting cases, but
determined that the UNHCR's criteria for resettlement of
Montagnards were "a bit low."

4. (SBU) The 137 refuseniks pose the biggest problem to the
UNHCR, Utkan admitted. This number has dropped from 350,
but the remaining 137 are "hard core." Furthermore,
discrepancies between their stories of oppression and their
personal histories lead the UNHCR to believe that many of
them are being coached. The refuseniks "do not believe that
anything will happen to them" as a result of their refusal
to go abroad or return to Vietnam. However, the UNHCR is
hopeful that beginning the repatriation of some of the
individuals whose asylum claims were rejected will show the
refusenicks that the possibility of return is real, and this
will "break the logjam."

5. (SBU) There is no precedent for individuals being offered
asylum but refusing to depart to a host country while still
expressing fear of returning home. Currently, the UNHCR's
view is that, if these individuals have been offered asylum,
refused it, been counseled repeatedly on the potential
impact of refusing asylum but still continued to refuse it,
then they have effectively declined the assistance of the
UNHCR in their cases. Therefore, the UNHCR position is that
returning them to Vietnam would not constitute refoulement.
The UNHCR is a "highly legalistic organization," Utkan
explained, and its lawyers are currently carrying out an
internal debate over whether it can withdraw refugee status
bestowed on an individual without evidence of
misrepresentation.

6. (SBU) The UNHCR is sensitive to criticisms of human
rights groups that allege that individuals returned to
Vietnam have suffered repercussions. The Special
Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in
Cambodia has suggested that failure to protect the
refuseniks after having granted them refugee status would
amount to the acceptance of refoulement. Some human rights
groups have suggested that Cambodia is obliged to provide
asylum to the refuseniks if they reject resettlement to
third countries. Utkan argued that this is not the case,
and that resettlement in Cambodia is undesirable due to the
inability of that country to provide for them financially.
Vietnam has indicated to the UNHCR that it would not object
to the refuseniks' staying in Cambodia so long as they are
not put in camps. Utkan theorized that Vietnam has put
forth this position to distance itself from criticism if
Cambodia begins forcible repatriations.

7. (SBU) Utkan noted that some of the refuseniks appeared
reluctant to resettle in a distant country while their
relatives remained in Vietnam. The UNHCR raised this at the
April 11 technical meeting in Phnom Penh (Ref B), and was
assured by the GVN that there are "no barriers to
individuals leaving Vietnam." UNHCR hopes to use some
family reunification cases for individuals being settled in
Finland to test this, and believes that a successful result
will help to reduce the number of refuseniks. The
Ambassador recounted the difficulties the USG is having with
follow-to-join cases from the Central Highlands being able
to acquire personal documents.

8. (SBU) Utkan acknowledged that the UNHCR has exceeded the
original one-month period defined in the MOU during which
the refuseniks had to make a decision to settle abroad or
return to Vietnam. The GVN is not pressuring the UNHCR on
this, however, and while the Cambodians sent a diplomatic
note on April 25 stating they planned to repatriate this
group, Utkan believed that the problem would be worked out
and the Cambodians would hold off.

9. (SBU) The 104 individuals with rejected cases have all
had "several reviews" of their situation and the threshold
for asylum is "very low," so the UNHCR does not consider
them to be controversial. The UNHCR is discouraging
Cambodia from returning them to Vietnam until after it can
conduct a monitoring visit to the Central Highlands,
however.

10. (SBU) During his current trip to Hanoi, Utkan met with
ranking Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Cong Phung. He
described this high-level reception as a significant sign of
how the tone of UNHCR-GVN relations has improved. The UNHCR
is still seeking approval for a monitoring visit to the
first returnees (Ref C). VFM Phung told Utkan he had "taken
a positive stance" on the trip, so Utkan is hopeful it will
happen soon. The UNHCR also believes a midterm review,
originally scheduled take place April 27 and 28 in Geneva,
will get back on track, despite the Cambodians declining in
writing to attend. The GVN has expressed a willingness to
participate. Utkan expressed frustration over the continued
lack of approval for the placing of an expatriate staff
member at UNHCR's offices in Hanoi. In January, the UNHCR
had been given assurances by the GVN that approval would
come soon. The UNHCR had selected a candidate with
experience in Vietnam and embarked on the process of
agrement. The Ambassador noted that the delay likely had
nothing to do with the individual selected, but rather with
the concept of the UNHCR having expatriate staff in Vietnam.
Utkan closed by saying that "international presence and
international monitoring" were the two issues he had
stressed with VFM Phung. The GVN must end its "monopoly of
information on the Central Highlands."

MARINE

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