Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 25, 2007

US policy change endangers the Montagnards of the Central Highlands

The US has changed its policy of offering a “second chance” to Montagnard asylum seekers who have been denied refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees according to Refugees International. As of May 1, rejected applicants must return to Vietnam to visit the US Embassy in Hanoi.

The State Department changed its policy due to ‘improved conditions for Montagnards’ in the Central Highlands. "We believe that human rights conditions are improving in the Central Highlands, a region to which UNHCR and other diplomatic missions have had increased access over the past year," Daigle wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "[We] have received assurances from the Vietnamese government that it will allow Montagnards to apply for refugee status at our embassy or consulate in that country. We have no reason to doubt these assurances.”

The change in policy has been highly criticized by Refugee International who categorized the policy shift as ‘weakening protections for Montagnards and possibly exposing Montagnards to new problems when forced home’.

In a June report, Human Rights Watch maintains that Montagnards in the Central Highlands continue to suffer serious human rights abuses and face torture and persecution. Similarly, ZOA Refugee Care acknowledges the ongoing ‘severe forms of religion-based punitive action’ such as beatings, forced labor, imprisonment, full-time surveillance and confiscation of property.

Despite continued documented discrimination against the Montagnards, the US policy shift was welcomed by the Vietnamese government: “Before [the US] had the wrong conception. People have religious freedom [in Vietnam]” A spokesperson of the Vietnamese government also added that the Montagnards are free to travel to complain to local authorities if they feel they are being mistreated.

Speculation of the policy shift points towards the upcoming visit by the Vietnamese president amidst increased relations with the US.

For the full article, click here.

For more information on Refugees International’s work concerning ongoing discrimination against the Montagnards, click here.

For more information concerning the Leadership Council for Human Rights projects in the Central Highlands, click here.

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