Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thailand Urged to Halt Expulsion of Laotian Hmong Population
By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer
Washington - The Obama administration urges Thailand to suspend its forced repatriation of ethnic Hmong refugees to Laos, describing the action as a "serious violation" of international humanitarian principles.
"Both the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Royal Thai Government have deemed many of them in need of protection because of the threats they might face in Laos," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a December 27 statement ( ).
Many thousands of Hmong fled Laos to Thailand and other countries beginning in 1975 after the Pathet Lao movement took power. The Hmong backed U.S. forces fighting in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict of the 1960s and 1970s. They fear persecution because they also fought to prevent the communist Pathet movement from seizing power in Laos.
Thailand has described the Hmong as "economic migrants" rather than political refugees. On December 28, it sent soldiers armed with shields and batons to begin forcing 4,000 Hmong inhabitants of the camp in Phetchabun province onto buses bound for the Laotian border. According to news reports, international aid workers and the media were prevented from accessing the camp, and mobile phone service to the camp was shut off during the operation.
Spokesman Kelly said U.S. officials "deeply regret this serious violation of the international humanitarian principles that Thailand has long been known for championing."
He urged the government of Laos to treat any returning Hmong humanely, allow international monitors to have access to them, and facilitate resettlement opportunities for eligible returnees.
"We will remain engaged in this important humanitarian issue," Kelly said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres also called for a halt to the forced repatriations on December 24, saying some of the refugees have international protection needs.
"In accordance with international law, Thailand has the responsibility and international obligation to ensure that any return of recognized refugees or other persons in needs of international protection to their country of origin is undertaken on a strictly voluntary basis," Guterres said. "To proceed otherwise would not only endanger the protection of the refugees but set a very grave international example."
Thailand came under international criticism  earlier in 2009 when a group of Rohingya refugees from Burma accused Thai military personnel of beating them and sending them out to sea on boats without motors or adequate food and water supplies.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  )

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