This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 30 January 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR was extremely alarmed to hear that 153 Lao Hmong recognised refugees, including a newborn baby, were in the process of being deported from a detention centre in Thailand back to the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) today. But, we have just heard that after a tense standoff between a group of 54 male refugees who had been strongly resisting the deportation and who we understand had barricaded themselves into the detention centre at Nong Khai along with a group of about two dozen children, that the deportation seems to have been called off for today. Most of the women and children of the group who had earlier been loaded onto buses, have just been allowed to disembark and return to the detention centre. Two ambulances carrying two serious medical cases, previously parked near a bridge marking the Thai-Laos border, are returning to the hospital with their patients.
If this deportation does still go ahead, it would be the first time to our knowledge that Thailand would have refouled refugees individually recognised under UNHCR's mandate. This would be a major breach of international humanitarian law, which says that no refugee should be forcibly returned to a country where their life or liberty could be in danger. It would also be a huge disappointment to UNHCR as we had made repeated offers to the Thai government to assist them in finding alternative solutions for this group and have been working closely with third countries to find resettlement solutions.
We have serious concerns for the safety and security of those being deported to Laos. UNHCR does not have access inside Laos to people returned against their will. We are still gravely concerned about the fate of 26 Hmong children – separated from their parents – who were deported from Thailand to Laos in December 2005. There has been no trace of them since despite efforts by UNHCR and the Thai government to find out what has happened to them.
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