A Hmong refugee, speaking to VOA on
condition of anonymity, says he and his fellow refugees, numbering more
than 6,000 in Ban Huay Namkhao detention camp in Thailand’s Phetchabun Province,
are facing severe hardship and difficulties. He said that after their houses were burned down in June this year, they
not only suffer from scarcity of food, but also lack of housing and necessary
materials to rebuild their shelters after 70% of the camp was ravaged by the
fire. Now they have only plastic sheets over their head, and the only source of food for them comes
from the French humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. Meanwhile, the Thai military overseeing the
camp continues to pressure them to go back to Laos against their will, following
the path of over 1,400 Hmong refugees who have been sent back in groups since
the beginning of this year.
The man goes on to say that, however, his fellow Hmongs have decided that they will not participate in this repatriation program, despite monetary incentives and threats by Thai authorities.
Because many of the Hmong refugees were former soldiers or children of former soldiers who fought alongside US troops or CIA agents during the Vietnam War, they are afraid of persecution by the Lao government if they return home. Thus, they have decided to either remain in the camp or flee to hide in jungles. As a matter of fact, many of them have already fled to the jungle to wait for opportunities to go to a third country or until the United Nations and the international community help solve their problems.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch asserts that in the past three months, Lao authorities have arrested and detained at least 8 Hmong men out of the group of 837 who were forced to return to Laos after the fire at Ban Huay Namkhao camp. The majority of the detained Hmongs were leaders of the rallies and protests outside the camp in May, which eventually led to the fire that devastated the camp in June. Human Rights Watch called on the Lao government to unconditionally release these Hmongs and provide information regarding their whereabouts. The group added that unless Lao and Thai authorities allow the United Nations to witnesses and observe the repatriation of these Hmongs back to Laos, the international community will not consider that the process transparent or voluntary.
The Thai government has always maintained that its authorities never forcibly repatriate the refugees. Similarly, Lao government officials assert that they have been taking good care of the returnees and providing them sufficient assistance.
Listen to Songrit's report for more details in Lao.