Thailand’s Royal Police and immigration authority have arrested 11 Montagnard Vietnamese who were taking refuge near the capital city of Bangkok, according to a member of an organization representing the ethnic group.
Y Quynh Buondap is a member of Montagnards Stand For Justice (MSFJ) and has been living as a refugee in Thailand for many years.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia on Monday he said thousands of Montagnards in Thailand are living in fear.
“Strangers follow them when they go out and often take photos of their rental homes,” he said.
“On the morning of November 24, many cars from Thailand’s police and Immigration Department came to a Montagnard people’s residential area. They asked them to open the door in the Vietnamese language.”
He said most of the Montagnard people there were sleeping and did not know what was happening.
“As some did not open their doors, the police broke them down to search for people. They arrested all the men they found.
“They said that these people are living illegally in Thailand regardless of their having the U.N. card [recognizing refugee status] or not and that Thailand did not accommodate people coming illegally. Then the arrestees were taken to and detained at Bang Yai police station.”
He said the current situation was very tense, and some sources told him that women could also be arrested if they did not have children.
According to the human rights activist, the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and law firms haven’t taken any measures to help those arrested.
He added that other refugees were extremely worried. Men left home to avoid being arrested. Some hid themselves in pagodas, while others slept in bushes.
Thoan Siu and his family left Vietnam for Thailand in 2018 and have all been granted refugee status by the UNHCR. However, his son Nay-Luyn was still arrested during Friday’s raid.
“Eleven Central Highlands [Montagnard] people, who were sleeping at home in Bang Yai, were arrested at 6 a.m. on November 24 … Thai police even arrested people having been granted refugee status,” he said.
Thoan Siu said he had to leave Vietnam for Thailand because his land had been stolen, and he was prevented from practicing freedom of religion.
“[We are] very confused and anxious as we were chased in Vietnam and now we are also being chased in Thailand. Many refugees are worried about their lives on a daily basis, not knowing how their future could be.”
Hleo Nie is the mother of two primary school children. Despite fleeing Vietnam to Thailand two years ago, her family did not obtain an interview by UNHCR until last month. Her husband, Y Khuong Eban, was among the 11 Montagnard people arrested last week.
“I am very worried and scared. I don’t know where to go,” she said. “My family hasn’t got refugee status yet. We just had the interview a month ago.
“We have to worry about everything here: No money for rent, no money for daily necessities, and we are always sick. The Thai police are still chasing us. They said they would even arrest women.”
RFA calls to Thailand’s Royal Police and Bang Yai’s police to seek information about those arrested went unanswered.
RFA also tried to contact the UNHCR office in Bangkok but failed as their telephone line was always busy.
An attorney from a law office in Bangkok specializing in providing assistance to refugees who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, confirmed the arrest of the 11 Vietnamese.
The attorney said that on Sunday morning, all 11 people had been put on trial and convicted of illegal entry into Thailand as well as illegal residence.
He also said each had to pay THB5,000 (US$140) as a trial fee and would be sent to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) in Bangkok this week.
According to the attorney, one of the requirements for a detainee to leave the IDC is to pay a bail of THB50,000, which could be a fortune to a refugee without a legal and stable job.
He added that his organization is looking for funds to help the arrestees and their families.
According to Y Quynh Buondap, 17 Montagnard people have been arrested over the past few months, of whom nine have already been granted refugee status. Among them, two were arrested in August, four on November 20, and 11 on November 24. All are being held in the IDC, he said.
Montagnard is the largest ethnic minority Vietnamese group taking refuge in Thailand, with around 2,000 people, followed by Hmong and Khmer groups, with hundreds of people each. Dozens of Vietnamese activists are also living in Thailand to avoid persecution by the Vietnam government.
Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.