The Montagnards’s Refugee stories
(*Based on Aljazeera report)
Far away from the sprawling skyscrapers at the heart of Bangkok’s megalopolis lives a small community of 150 Montagnard families.
The Montagnards are the native inhabitants of the Central Highlands, one of Vietnam’s mountainous regions that is known for its coffee plantations. Predominantly converts to Protestantism, the Montagnards say they have been facing repression and religious discrimination since Vietnam’s communist government took power in 1975.
The number in Thailand has grown over recent years as more continue to escape what they describe as religious persecution, land expropriation, and arbitrary arrests by Vietnamese authorities.
It isn’t easy to find them. They live nestled among plantations and canals and surrounded by small bamboo houses above the water.
“It’s safer for them to live here as there is too much police downtown,” explains Grace Bui, the Thailand programme director at the Montagnard Assistance Project.
Thailand is not a signatory to the UN’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. As such, the Montagnard asylum seekers have been described by countries such as Cambodia as undocumented economic migrants. They have have no rights or status regardless of their registration with the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.
The Vietnamese police used a glass bottle and hit me so hard that they broke my tooth and cut my eye,” says Ayun Tre, 50, describing, in his native Jarai language, the 15 days of hard labour he served in 2003 for refusing to renounce his faith.
Once a farmer in his village in Vietnam’s Gia Lai province, Tre left for Thailand in 2015 fearing for his life after he says he was again arrested and beaten in 2014.
“I want people to know that we do not have a good life nor justice under Vietnam’s oppressive communist regime,” he says.
“I miss the fresh air and the green trees,” says Tre. “But now, the government erased everything I had and nothing is left.”
They were once among Vietnam’s most economically prosperous people. But after decades of land appropriation, they are now some of the poorest. Since the end of the 1960s, there have been several government-led resettlement and modernisation projects in the Central Highlands that have targeted the community.
After selling everything he owned, including his only cow and some wood, Tre managed to bring his wife and children to Thailand in late 2016, paying a smuggler about $1,000 per adult and $400 per child.
Finally reunited, the family is waiting for an interview with the UNHCR in the hope of being recognised as refugees and resettled in a third country.
“Thailand is a free country where we can meet and gather, not like Vietnam,” says Tre.
But without the appropriate documentation, Tre lives in constant fear of being arrested by local Thai police, detained in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), and eventually sent back to Vietnam.
“The IDC is a very dirty place with very little food,” says Pornchai Kamonsin, a Thai pastor from Bangkok’s Glory to God Church, who helps the Montagnards with housing and hospital bills, but whose power is limited once the asylum seekers reach the IDC.
“When they’re sick, I’m the person they call in the middle of the night,” he says.
Kamonsin also vouches for the paperless Montagnard children who, without his help, would not be able to attend Thai schools.
His church was founded seven years ago and while only Thai people attended the services initially, Kamonsin says he has noticed a significant increase in the number of Montagnards over the past few years.
“When we first opened, there were only 15 Thais attending the church,” he says. “Now, there are over 100 Thais and 200 Montagnards.
This Project’s story.
After I read these kind of stories, I decided tho contact pastor Pornchai immediately and asked him about the way to support this asylum seekers and refugee communities. As Christianity same as me, I have a passion and burden, based on many years of my experiences in refugee related issues career (I used to work closely with UNHCR as a refugee resettlement organization officer and used to worked as researcher for Urban Refugee in Bangkok report as well), to take care or support these underprivileged people.
Pastor Pornchai said to me that “We still need a small baptism pool for the Montagnards families.”
So I’m Searching the proper ones and found that which in sphere shaped: size 2m (diameter) and 1.3m (height) and plan to fundraising till 24 October 2020. Then will order and ready to donate to Pastor Pornchai’s church within 31 October 2020 respectively.
So I would like to invite you all to help me to make this project come true.
God bless you guys all. :)