Thai and Lao governments continue to blatantly defy international refugee law
Both the Thai and Lao governments continue their farce by blanket-labeling all the Hmong population at Huay Nam Khao as "economic migrants". They continue to try and break their spirit by giving them no way out, using psychological torture against the group by denying them access to the media, human rights groups and the outside world. They tell them that they will all be sent back eventually if they do not "volunteer" to return now.The Thai military has claimed to have put these Hmong through a screening process to determine whether they are political refugees or economic migrants. Despite the cries of the UNHCR, diplomatic community, and human rights groups, no third party has been allowed access to observe this screening process.Just recently, on Sunday September 7, 2008, a source in the Thai military at Huay Nam Khao camp had informed some Hmong that during September-October there will be a change in guard at the camp. The newly assigned troops will come from Lop Buri and Petchabun provinces. The source went on to state that the Thai military would continue to repatriate only those Hmong who volunteered to return to Laos. But if by September 2009, there were any remaining Hmong refusing to return, then the Thai military would force them back and those Hmong would not receive any financial assistance from the Thai government.Coinciding with this news, during a September 6 Radio Free Asia broadcast, General Nipat Thonglek, the general in charge of Thai Border Affairs, announced that he would be traveling to Vientiane on September 8 to meet with his Lao counterpart General Bounsieng. He also stated that he would be paying a visit to the Hmong settlement at Pha Lak on September 11.Just days before General Thonglek’s announcement, Radio Free Asia had interviewed the former Vice-President of Huay Nam Khao camp Va Her Thao. Mr. Thao is a former CIA soldier who had participated in the June 20-22 protests outside Huay Nam Khao but had fled to the surrounding jungles when the Thai military began rounding up the group of protestors. The protest leaders who were captured by the Thai military at that time have not been heard from since but it is believed that they have since been deported to Laos. Relatives of theirs in Thailand, Laos and the US claim to have no word on what has become of these people. It seems that both the Thai and Lao authorities are cooperating closely by keeping a lid on this particular incident.Following the June 22 crackdown, some 600 Hmong have fled the Huay Nam Khao camp and are still at large. They fled due to fear of reprisals by Thai authorities and forced deportation to Laos.During Va Her Thao’s interview on RFA, he made some very strong accusations against the Thai government and their unfair treatment of the Hmong in Huay Nam Khao. To paraphrase from what Hmong refugees heard him say during the broadcast, he said that the Thai government has no justice and are searching for the Hmong refugee leaders like him. For over 4 years they have not allowed the UNHCR access to the Hmong in Huay Nam Nam Khao and that some Hmong refugees have already been sent back to Laos even though they face persecution from the Lao government. I suspect that General Thonglek’s announcement on RFA was in response to this peasant Hmong Robinhood who had the audacity to speak out against the Thai government and make them lose face. Hmong refugees in Huay Nam Khao camp have told me that due to Va Her Thao’s defiant broadcast over RFA the Thai military in Huay Nam Khao have been renewing their search for him questioning and interrogating those Hmong refugees who remain in the camp.Paving the way for General Thonglek’s upcoming visit to Pha Lak settlement, Lao officials have launched a cyber-campaign on Lao and Hmong newsgroups posting links to photos of the settlement taken by Lao officials during a recent visit. The photos and their accompanying captions attempt to portray happy Hmong returnees, along with a sympathetic Hmong American audience willing to donate money to assist the Lao government in the great job they are doing.One in particular, shows a smiling Hmong man holding up a sign in Lao language thanking Lao and Hmong newsgroup participants in cyberspace for sending $2000 which villagers used to buy livestock. The second photo link shows a group of four men who don't seem quite so thrilled holding the sign.http://www.flickr.com/photos/phalak1/2832554433/
It is important to note that the smiling man along with the majority of other Pha Lak residents are from the jungle group which photo-journalist Roger Arnold had visited back in 2006. To this day, over a year since the creation of this showpiece village, the Lao government continues to deny the diplomatic community, human rights monitors, or even ordinary Lao Hmong villagers free access to Pha Lak settlement. On the other hand, the Lao government continues to use cyberspace as a staging ground to show the world or Lao-Hmong American community what great "freedom of movement" these Pha Lak villagers have. Currently, the Lao government has jungle leader Blia Shoua Her's entire family held hostage in Pha Lak village, while he and 157 other UNHCR recognized Hmong refugees have already served nearly two years of what looks like a life sentence in a very cramped Nong Khai jail. How much longer can he and the others (including the 11 babies born there) hold on while they wait for the UNHCR and diplomatic community to come to their rescue?