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|28 December 2009
Thailand deports Hmong to Laos amidst international concerns
Thai security agencies Monday morning began the repatriation of Hmong displaced people from the refugee camp in Phetchabun, German news agency DPA quoted the Defence Ministry spokesman as saying.
Col Thanatip Sawangsaeng, the Defence Ministry spokesman, said soldiers, police and Interior Ministry officials started repatriating the Hmong people from the Ban Huey Nam Khao centre in Khaokho district. He said only those, who volunteered to return to Laos, were repatriated since early morning. He said some Hmong were still hesitating and others wanted to wait to be resettled in a third country.
The Hmong people, who volunteered to leave, were transported in military trucks to the 3red Cavalry Division in Phetchabun's Lomsak district and they would be transported in buses to a border checkpoint in Nong Khai and further transported to Paksun in Laos.
In a related story, AFP quoted a top US official as saying that the United States will be "deeply dismayed" if Thailand goes ahead with the deportation of 4,000 ethnic Hmong to communist Laos in the face of a global outcry.
"We would be deeply dismayed by this action, and the action would impose some very serious challenges for us," Eric P. Schwartz, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, told AFP in a telephone interview from the United States.
The Hmong, an ethnic minority which has inhabited the mountainous northern region of Laos for centuries, were recruited as guerrilla fighters by the US military in its "secret war" against communist forces in Laos.
The communists prevailed in 1975, and the Hmong were left behind. Unknown thousands fled to neighbouring Thailand since 1975 and sought resettlement abroad.
In 2003, the US agreed to take 14,000 Hmong who had lived for years at Tham Krabok temple in north-east Thailand. Since then, some 8,000 more Hmong sought refuge in Thailand, claiming persecution at home.
About 3,000 refugees returned to Laos voluntarily in 2008-09. Thailand insists the remainder must be deported to prevent the country from being a magnet for more Hmong migration.
"There are ways to try to discourage economic migrants but you cannot decide by fiat one day that people are going to stop crossing the border when they need protection," Schwartz said.
Besides Hmong, Thailand has attracted more than 1.5 million refugees from Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam over the past four decades. The Thai government has been criticised for not allowing UNHCR to determine the Hmong's eligibility for refugee status.
At least 158 former Huay Nam Khao residents, now in a detention centre in Nong Khai, have been classified as "people of concern" by the UN agency. Despite claims of concern, no foreign country has expressed interest in accepting the Huay Nam Khao community.
To date, the Lao government has not invited the UNHCR to work in the country, nor to monitor the Hmong repatriation process, although foreign embassy staff in Vientiane have been brought to resettlement camps where some of the 3,000 Hmong who returned have ended up.
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