Thailand begins repatriation of Hmong migrants to Laos

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Monday, December 28, 2009

The Thai government rejected accusations by the international community that thousands of Lao Hmong refugees were being forcibly sent back to Laos. The Thai military carried out the deportation under tight security.

The deportation of 4,000 Hmong to Laos began in the early hours of Monday with convoys of military trucks and buses ferrying people to the border.

Human rights groups fear the Hmong, who have been held at the Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Phetchabun Province, will be persecuted once they return to Laos.

Cquote1.svg No, no, not forcefully - they volunteer to go back at least in the morning of today. Cquote2.svg

—Panitan Wattanayagorn, government spokesman

The U.S. government called for a suspension of the operation, saying Thailand has violated international humanitarian principles by forcibly returning the Hmong. The United States recruited the Hmong back during the Vietnam War to help the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in their "Secret War" in Laos.

"We deeply regret this serious violation of the international humanitarian principles that Thailand has long been known for championing," said State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelly.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn denied this accusation. Wattanayagorn said Lao authorities promised to grant amnesty to those returning.

"No, no, not forcefully - they volunteer to go back at least in the morning of today," he said. "Many of them are on the way back and those who are they have told the officers' in charge they have told us that they are volunteer[ing] to go."

He said under Thai law the Hmong are illegal immigrants and they have been treated according to law.

Cquote1.svg Such coercive, intimidating and brutal measures are clearly the opposite of the concept of 'voluntary repatriation'. Cquote2.svg

—Sunai Pasuk, Human Rights Watch

"We do this in good faith. ... We have to follow the compliance with human rights standards and we have to make sure these people will be repatriated back in safe and sound condition," he said.

But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said several in the camp would have qualified as refugees. Thailand never allowed the UNHCR or any other groups to assess the status of the Hmong in the camp.

The Human Rights Watch representative in Thailand, Sunai Pasuk, called the repatriation a "serious breach in international standards."

Pasuk added, "Such coercive, intimidating and brutal measures are clearly the opposite of the concept of 'voluntary repatriation'. As a result of what Thailand has done to the Lao Hmong today, Prime Minister Abhisit sinks Thailand’s record on contempt for human rights and international law to a new low."


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