Thai authorities recently sent back to Laos a group of 103 Lao Hmongs from 29 households, whohad been languishing for four years in Ban Huay Namkhao detention camp in Khao Khoh district, Thailand’s Phetchaboun province, hoping they would be accepted for resettlement in the United States. This is the 9th group of Hmongs refugees repatriated to Laos since the beginning of 2008, increasing the total number of Hmongs returned to Laos so far to over 1,800 people with more than 6,000 remaining at the camp. The repatriation was implemented in accordance with an agreement between the Lao and Thai governments aiming at completing the repatriation of all Hmong refugees from Thailand by mid-2009 at the latest. Both governments have consistently maintained that they do not consider the Hmongs in Huay Namhkao as refugees but illegal immigrants who must be returned to Laos without third party intervention, an argument that is totally different from the international community’s perception. And they assert that the refugees were not forced to return.
However, the non-profit human rights organization Human Rights Watch argued in a recent statement that the repatriation and reception of the Hmong refugees are often conducted in a forceful manner by Thai and Lao authorities, as Lao officials have arrested and detained at least nine Hmong leaders returning from Huay Namkhao. Officials of both governments denied the allegation and maintained that they have never forced the Hmongs to go back against their will.
In addition, Lao officials further insist that there is no persecution toward the Hmong returnees. As a matter of fact, they said they have taken real good care of the returning Hmongs. As for the nine Hmong leaders in question, they still remain in Vientiane under the custody of Lao officials, because they are waiting for other family members to be sent back from Huay Namkhao so that they can return to their home village together, according to Mr. Yong Chanthalansy, spokesman of the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who added that the allegation by Human Rights Watch that Lao officials arrested and detained Hmong leaders returning from Huay Namkhao, is totally groundless.
Lao authorities separate the Hmong returnees into two groups: those who still have houses, farm- land or relatives in Laos, and those who have none of the above. Members of the first group are returned to their old villages, while the others are sent to newly developed villages specifically set up to resettle the Hmong returnees, including Phalak village in Kasy district, Vientiane Province, and another receiving center in Bolikhamxay province.
Listen to Songrit’s report for more details in Lao.