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Statement by Joel Charny, Acting President, Refugees International
“Nearly 35 years after first giving sanctuary to refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the Royal Thai Government is allegedly considering the forced expulsion of 4,000 Hmong, the last remnants of an Indochinese refugee population that once numbered 1.5 million, back to Laos. This forced repatriation would place the refugees in serious danger of persecution at the hands of the Lao authorities, who to this day have not forgiven the Hmong for being dedicated allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.
“Reports have emerged from Thailand in recent days that the government has deployed extra troops to Phetchabun province where the Hmong are held in tightly controlled camps. Expelling the Hmong would constitute a serious violation of international refugee law and a severe blot on Thailand’s humanitarian record.
“Since the Hmong first sought asylum in Thailand, tens of thousands have been resettled in third countries, with the majority coming to the United States. For the remaining group, a fair solution is already available. The Thai government has already interviewed the Hmong, screening them to identify those who are truly fleeing persecution and therefore qualify as legitimate refugees and asylum seekers. Those screened out should have the right of fair review before being returned to Laos. Hmong qualifying as asylum seekers should be afforded the opportunity to apply for resettlement in the United States and other countries.
“Refugees International further urges the Thai government not to send any Hmong, whether qualified as asylum seekers or not, back to Laos without reviewing their cases and ensuring that an internationally supported program is in place to monitor their repatriation and treatment after their return. This is necessary in part because of a 2006 repatriation of 26 Hmong boys and girls to Laos resulted in tragedy. The girls were eventually allowed to return to Thailand but were severely traumatized. The state of the boys is still uncertain.
“The Thai and U.S. governments can be proud of their joint response to the Indochinese refugee crisis over several decades, but their relations may be strained if Thailand’s government decides to move forward with the forced expulsions. As U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy indicated in a statement on the Senate floor today, the U.S. is deeply concerned about the safety and protection of Hmong refugees. Should the Hmong be forced back to Laos, ‘it could badly damage the Thai military’s reputation, and put our [U.S.] military collaboration at risk’.”
###For Immediate Release