Hmong: Refugees Face Persecution
Below is an article published by AFP:
A US-based human rights group Tuesday [28 October 2008] called on communist Laos to free Hmong ethnic minority protest leaders who it said had been jailed after being forcibly deported by neighbouring Thailand.
Thousands of Lao Hmong have lived in Thai refugee camps for years and requested political asylum in third countries, saying they fear persecution because many Hmong once fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam War.
Thailand has since 2005 repatriated more than 1,500 of the 8,000 Hmong residents of the Thai camps, while both Bangkok and Vientiane have rejected requests by the UN refugee agency or other groups to monitor the process.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement Tuesday [28 October 2008] that Laos was now detaining several Hmong deported by Thailand this year .
"The Lao government is notorious for treating deported Hmong harshly upon their return," said Bill Frelick, the group's refugee policy director.
"By imprisoning these Hmong deportees, Lao authorities confirm the fear many Hmong asylum seekers and refugees have expressed of being persecuted if returned to their native country."
The group said that in June  more than 5,000 of the 8,000 Hmong marched out of Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Thailand's Phetchabun province to protest a wave of arrests and deportations of Hmong refugees.
Thai authorities stopped the march, arrested 837 Hmong and forcibly returned them to Laos, said the group, adding that eight demonstration leaders and some of their family members had since disappeared.
Several had been jailed in southern Laos for more than three months, said HRW, citing witnesses, while other protest leaders remained missing.
Frelick said that "Thailand's forcible, secret return of Hmong refugee camp protest leaders to Laos is a clear violation of international refugee law."
Laos says it does not discriminate against Hmong and that returnees are well treated. Last month [September 2008] the Lao military command invited Thai government and military officials and media to visit a Hmong relocation site in Pha Lak.
HRW said that in recent decades, "Lao security forces have been responsible for arrests, torture, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings of Hmong living in areas of Laos suspected to be insurgency regions."
Frelick said that "as long as both Laos and Thailand deny the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to the Hmong, these so-called voluntary returns cannot be believed to be truly voluntary."