Thai authorities returned 837 Hmong refugees from Ban Huay Nam Khao, Phetchabun province, to the Lao PDR on June 22, saying all of them agreed to go back voluntarily.
Laos' spokesman, Yong Chanthalangsy, told VOA the refugees were officially turned over to his government on Sunday afternoon, and they have been placed in temporary shelters in Paksane, Borikhamsay province, awaiting the return to their old villages which he expects to take place in the next ten days.
In the meantime, the returnees will be interviewed by Lao officials to verify their backgrounds and records. They will also be educated on how to re-assimilate into the mainstream of Lao society and on the risks of falling victims of human trafficking, because the Lao government believes that the refugees were lured into fleeing to Thailand by human traffickers.
Meanwhile in Phetchabun, Thai military authorities said that the almost 3,000 Hmong refugees who had been demonstrating at the entrance to Ban Huay Nam Khao camp since May 16, have ended their protests, and that the 837 retunrees were part of the protesters, who volunteered to return to Laos while the rest have gone back to live inside the camp. Thai officials say they are preparing to send another group of refugees back to Laos at the end of the month.
Yong Chanthalangsy, the Lao spokesman said that if the repatriation keeps up at this pace, he expects all the Hmong refugees at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp will all come home by year's end, and that his country is ready to take them all back.
Listen to our report for more details in Lao.