March 1, 2008

Hmong: Refugees Jailed After Deportation

U.N. refugee agency is concerned about Thailand's recent repatriation of a small group of ethnic Hmong to Laos because of reports that they were sent back involuntarily.

U.N. refugee agency is concerned about Thailand's recent repatriation of a small group of ethnic Hmong to Laos because of reports that they were sent back involuntarily.

Below is an article published by The International Herald Tribune:

The U.N. refugee agency is concerned about Thailand's recent repatriation of a small group of ethnic Hmong to Laos because of reports that they were sent back involuntarily, a spokeswoman for the organization said Friday.

The 12 Hmong were taken Wednesday [27 February 2008] from a refugee camp in Thailand's Phetchabun province to be sent back to Laos on Thursday [28 February 2008]. The camp is estimated to hold nearly 8,000 Hmong from Laos, most of whom say they fear for their safety in their communist homeland.

According to the Thai military's Supreme Command's Border Affairs Office, which manages the camp, the 12 volunteered to go back to Laos as a goodwill gesture prior to Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's official visit to the country Friday.

However, one of the 12 was a woman who had five children left behind at the camp, according to the humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders, which works at the camp. Her separation from her children suggested that her return was not voluntary, the group said.

According to a California-based Hmong advocacy group, the Fact Finding Commission, and a Western diplomat who asked not to be named because she is not authorized to speak to the media, the woman was en route to Laos when she was sent back to the camp to be reunited with her children.

The Fact Finding Commission, which has been a reliable source of information in the past, said the 11 others who were sent back were jailed Friday [29 February 2008] at Paksan in Laos' Bolikhamxai province.

The report could not be independently confirmed, and Lao officials could not be reached for comment.

Kitty McKinsey, Asia spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, said her agency relied on assurances from the Thai Foreign Ministry that the people who were sent back had volunteered to go.

"We are concerned because we are receiving a number of reports which called into question whether everyone volunteered to go," she told The Associated Press.

UNHCR, she said, has no objection to repatriations if they are strictly voluntary and conducted in dignity and according to international standards.

The Hmong say they fear political persecution in Laos. Many Hmong fought on the side of a pro-U.S. Laotian government in the 1960s and 1970s before the communist takeover of their country in 1975.

More than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, fled to Thailand after the takeover. Most were resettled in third countries, particularly the United States, although several thousand were voluntarily repatriated to Laos.

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