June 14, 2007

Hmong: Largest Deportation

Rights groups have condemned what is considered the largest forceful repatriation of refugees by the government of Thailand in recent times, forcing 163 Hmong asylum seekers to return to Laos.

Rights groups have condemned what is considered the largest forceful repatriation of refugees by the government of Thailand in recent times, forcing 163 Hmong asylum seekers to return to Laos.

Below is a press statement issued by Forum-Asia:

FORUM-ASIA reiterates its condemnation of the government of Thailand for the forced repatriation of 163 Hmong Lao asylum seekers on 9 June 2007.The government of Thailand has ignored its international obligations to protect asylum seekers by returning Hmong Lao to the very place from which they were trying to escape.

There are allegations that the return was not peaceful. The American-based NGO, Fact Finding Commission, has "reported beatings and the use of tear gas and stun guns by the Thai military" in the repatriation process. When this group was informed of the pending deportation, two individuals attempted suicide; there is an unconfirmed report that one individual subsequently died.These instances only serve to escalate the already disturbing situation that is playing out on the Thai-Lao border.

This is the largest repatriation by the government of Thailand in recent times and causes trepidation that repatriations will only continue. Since November 2006, 263 Hmong Lao asylum-seekers have been forcibly repatriated. Once the individuals are returned, government authorities do not allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), human rights or humanitarian organisations access to them. In April last year, 26 Hmong were massacred in the jungles of Vientiane province near the popular tourist town of Vang Vieng, most of whom were women and children. And on 30 May 2007, 31 Hmong were sent back to Laos.

The Hmong were repatriated based on the Lao-Thai Committee on Border Security agreement that was signed on 18 May 2007 in Udon Thani province, Thailand. This agreement disrespects the principle of non-refoulment and protection of asylum seekers to which all United Nations member states are obligated. As UN member states, Thailand and Laos, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, must protect the right of every individual “to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

The United States government criticised the recent deportation. "It is a generally recognized principle that no one with a genuine fear of persecution should be returned to a country where he or she might face mistreatment." The reports of human rights violations in Laos "cause concern about the well-being of those who were deported," said State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack.

Recent reports from human rights organisations around the world have shed light on violations committed at the hands of Laos authorities. Although reports are denied by the Laos government, facts provided by a wide range of respected presenters speak for themselves. FORUM-ASIA insists that the government of Thailand take this evidence of human rights violations seriously. Thailand has repeatedly ignored requests from humanitarian organisations and even the UNHCR to halt the deportation of Hmong asylum seekers and allow UNHCR to evaluate their situation.

“It is clear that Hmong Lao asylum seekers that come to Thailand are attempting to escape a dangerous situation that includes threats to their lives. The government of Thailand must accept its obligation to provide safe shelter” asserted Anselmo Lee, executive director of FORUM-ASIA.

The government of Laos has acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Its continued persecution of the Hmong Lao is an obvious violation of this international convention. FORUM-ASIA urges the government of Laos to respect its international obligations. The persecution of Hmong Lao people must stop immediately.