Aug 31, 2007

Hmong: Concern over Refugees

A number of organisations, including the UNHCR and Amnesty International, have drawn attention to the dire conditions in which Hmong refugees in Thailand are detained.

A number of organisations, including Amnesty International and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have drawn attention to the dire conditions in which Hmong refugees in Thailand are detained.

Below are extracts from an  article published by Marwaan Macan-Markar for the Inter Press Service:

By going on a hunger strike, some 150 ethnic Hmong refugees in Thailand have turned the heat on Bangkok to respect their rights and treat them with compassion.


‘’They have been locked inside the prison cells since Jan. 30 without seeing the sun. They have been forced to drink dirty water from the bathroom for more than a month and the food is not fit for human consumption,’’ [a Hmong rights activist] added in describing the conditions under which the refugees, among them 80 children, have been kept in an immigration detention centre near the Thai-Laos border.

Bangkok’s treatment of these Hmong, who stopped taking food on Thursday [August 16 2007], has prompted criticism from the [office of the] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). All of the victims have been given refugee status by the U.N. agency and have been assured resettlement in a third country.

Similar concerns have been expressed over another group of nearly 8,000 Hmong refugees kept in a holding centre in Thailand’s north-central province of Petchabun. They have been denied contact with the U.N. refugee agency and are being targeted by Bangkok to be deported back to neighbouring Laos, where the Hmong are a persecuted minority.  

‘’This group should also be screened according to international standards to see if they have legitimate reasons to claim refugee status,’’ Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman of the U.N. refugee agency’s Bangkok office, told IPS. ‘’The Thai military has been involved in their registration process. UNHCR has not been involved.’’

‘’We are concerned about them,’’ she added. ‘’They should not be sent back till all of them have been screened.’’  


The pressure on the military-appointed government that runs Thailand is not only limited to the cries of the victims, nor that of humanitarian agencies. In March, the global rights body Amnesty International (AI) drew attention to the plight of the Hmong as refugees in Thailand and as an ethnic community under siege in Laos.


And the beginning of August saw 13 members of the U.S. Congress write a letter to Thailand’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to help stop further deportation of the Hmong refugees back to the homes they fled in Laos.

The refugees would ‘’face horrific mass starvation and death by the Lao military regime if they return to their homeland,’’ the letter said, echoing sentiments that had been expressed in June by the U.S. State Department. On that occasion, Washington’s foreign affairs arm requested the Thai government ‘’not to deport vulnerable people seeking refugee status without first having a screening process that meets international standards.’’


The Laotian government has […] displayed […] a hostile approach when Hmong refugees have been deported back, including denying access to the U.N. refugee agency to monitor resettlement efforts. In some cases, the Hmong who were forced back to Laos have ‘’disappeared,’’ say journalists and photographers who have closely followed this story.  


‘’The two countries will not allow the issue of Hmong illegal immigration to undermine our good relations since we have reached a conclusion that these people are not refugees and must be repatriated back to Laos,’’ Yong Chantalansy, Lao government spokesman, told the ‘Bangkok Post’ newspaper this week during a visit to Thailand.

In March, Bangkok and Vientiane signed a bilateral agreement to strengthen ties to find solutions to a range of cross-border issues, including the Hmong ‘’problem.’’ A meeting between the two governments to be held in September is expected to follow through on this agreement, with the fate of the Hmong scheduled for discussion.