Hmong: Asylum Seekers to be Repatriated
Below is an article published by The Straits Times:
Communist Laos wants neighbouring Thailand to repatriate by June  approximately 5,000 members of the Lao Hmong ethnic minority who remain in Thai refugee camps, said a Lao media report seen on Friday [2 December 2009].
Lao government spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy said he was 'encouraged by progress that had resulted in 2000 illegal immigrants being returned to the country since 2006,' said an online report by the Vientiane Times daily.
The Hmong have requested political asylum in third countries, saying they fear persecution because members of the minority fought alongside US troops during the Vietnam war before communist forces took power in Laos in 1975.
Thailand and Laos claim the Hmong are illegal economic migrants and have slowly repatriated them to Laos, to the horror of human rights groups who have detailed past abuses and say many Hmong are in genuine danger of persecution.
Human Rights Watch has accused Lao security forces of arrests, torture, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings of Hmong in the past and has demanded both Bangkok and Vientiane allow UN monitoring of any repatriations.
Thailand has in recent years cultivated Laos, a landlocked and mostly rural country, as a key regional ally while buying increasing amounts of electricity generated in Lao Mekong River-system hydropower projects.
The resettlements have slowed amid Thailand's recent political turmoil, but Laos appears eager to wrap up the process before it takes the regional spotlight when it hosts the 25th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in December .
Mr Yong, according to the report, said that in the resettlement programme 'there have been challenges, but the outlook is positive and committees from both countries plan to meet next month in Thailand to find a solution'.
He said Hmong who already returned had been given farmland, electricity, water and irrigation systems in two resettlement villages in the Khamkeuth district of Borikhamxay province and Kasy district of Vientiane province.
'Initially, some members of the international community misunderstood our policy because some countries created rumours to damage our country's image saying that our government had abused the returnees,' Mr Yong was quoted saying.