The Story of a Montagnard Refugee
15 December 2015|Nick Jones- Regional Advocacy & Communications Officer
My name is Trang*, I am a Montagnard refugee. I fled Vietnam in 2007 and was granted resettlement to the US in 2015. This is my story:
I am from Central Highlands, Dak Lak Province, Vietnam. I left Vietnam in 2007 because the police arrested me many times before I left. The police arrested me because they thought I want to help support those rioting against the Vietnamese government.
In 2001 and 2004, I was arrested both times because in my province they had a big protest against the communist government so they really wanted to control the people. They were concerned about my family having connections with the US because my family members had moved there. They thought I was getting money from them in the US to help the protesters. They kept asking me if other people were giving me money to help support the people who were protesting.
But I wasn’t helping the protestors, it was money from my brother and I owed money to my teacher. I got arrested 5 times and they took my ID so I could not get money anymore. The government made it really difficult to get money from the bank so I went the last time with my teacher, as my brother sent the money to her because I did not have any ID, and they arrested my teacher and I.
They kept me in the station for one day. They made my teacher sign an agreement saying she would not help me anymore or teach me anything else. If she helped me again then the police would arrest her so she decided not to help me any more. After this I fled to Cambodia because the police came looking for me again at my house and my father told me I needed to run away.
I went to Cambodia in November 2007. I went to UNHCR and they took me to a camp, camp number 3. I stayed in the camp with nothing to do. Not enough food and water in the camp.
UNHCR told me that no one would accept the Montagnards in a third country anymore. I was told us that they would deport us and we were afraid they would not visit us if we did go back to Vietnam. Even UNHCR interviewed us but they did not tell us we would be resettled and said we should not stay long. I saw them deport people back to Vietnam so I then decided with 8 people to go to Thailand. I was in Cambodia for 7 months.
I left Cambodia around June 2008 and went to Bangkok. I went to the Poi Pet border and had to walk three hours through the jungle. We had no passport so how could we go through the immigration? So we, the eight of us, had to pay a man about 3,500 US dollars to get from the border.
UNHCR told me when I got to Bangkok that I was registered in Cambodia so to go back there and they would not help me with my case here in Thailand.
We said we could not go back to Cambodia because we saw UNHCR had deported many Montagnard asylum seekers which is why we needed their help in Bangkok because we are to scared too go back to Cambodia and definitely too scared to go to Vietnam.
The Thai people who were wearing the yellow shirts [People’s Alliance for Democracy] were protesting outside UNHCR and I stayed with these protestors because they gave me food and water.
I lived like that for 3 days until the group leader of the eight of us had some contacts with the Church, we found a small room and lived here almost 3 months, after that my group leader had contact with some one in the northwest and these people had a foundation in Thailand that helped pregnant women and children. I was 22-23 around then and they have me a job for 2 and a half years. I worked for these people in helping them with agriculture, taking care of pregnant babies, women, and learned English and Thai.
Immigration Detention Centre
I was arrest in the Northwest and was put into jail for 3 months. I was still staying with my group, about 12 of us now, but the Thai police arrested me. The Chiang Mai IDC conditions were not good. Dirty wood floor, no holes for air, big rats- a big one bite my face! We could barely breathe because there were too many people. There were so many mosquitos and cockroaches. I got scabies while there and it was terrible. I did not get any medication either even though I had scabies!
After a few months, in 2010, they moved us to the Bangkok IDC. I was in Bangkok IDC for almost 2 years. There were not many places to sleep. They put us all together, mentally ill people, people with HIV, there was not enough food, and many were fighting over food and water and a place to sleep. We had to stay in the room the whole time and couldn’t do anything.
One day, a woman from England came to visit a Nepali man and the police made a mistake and called my friend’s name so my friend went and spoke with her and told the British lady her story and my story. After that the British lady came every week to visit us.
When I was released I started working as a babysitter and did some translations for people who needed to go to the hospital. I did not have any documentation or asylum seeker certificate from UNHCR or anyone. My lawyer, from JRS, helped me find my registration number and told me UNHCR had rejected me but they did not tell me!
Since I got out of IDC I wanted to reopen my case and JRS and AAT provided legal counsel to me. They were able to help reopen my case with UNHCR and in 2014 through the appeal process I got my asylum seeker certificate. I did my interview with UNHCR in 2014 and UNHCR gave me my refugee certificate in 2014.
UNHCR gave me no money during this time. They said too many refugees are in Bangkok now, lots of Pakistani’s, so they only gave me rice and cans of fish every month. They told me about how the Pakistani children cannot go to school so I was ok with their decision.
I worked in a preschool for children not allowed to go to Thai schools after that I worked on arts and crafts with the children, did translation and cooked food for the children. I practiced my English with services provided by BPSOS.
I did not have a bank account because it is illegal so my livelihood opportunities in Bangkok were limited [while I waited for resettlement]. 1 year and 1 month later I finally moved and have a new life in the US after being in Thailand for almost 7 years!
*Names have been changed to protect identity.