Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Economist

Laotian Hmong refugees in Thailand: Shown the door

Its hospitality exhausted, Thailand sends refugees back to an uncertain future


A RELATIVELY peaceful haven in a bad neighbourhood, Thailand has taken in hordes of South-East Asians fleeing war, persecution and poverty. But the welcome is wearing thin. This week the Thai army loaded 4,351 ethnic Hmong onto lorries and drove them to the border with Laos, whence they had fled. None was allowed access to United Nations officials, who might have classified them as refugees deserving protection and eventual resettlement. Yet Thai officials called their eviction “voluntary”.

Recruited by the CIA to fight in the 1960s, the Hmong were among the losers in the Vietnam war. Hundreds of thousands fled Laos after the Communist victory in 1975 and eventually moved to America. In 2004 America agreed to take in another 14,000 or so Hmong who had been staying at a Thai temple. Those bundled back to Laos this week had drifted to another makeshift camp in Phetchabun province, hoping to claim international asylum. A separate group of 158 refugees were deported from a detention centre on the border.
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A barrage of American, EU and UN criticism failed to stop the expulsion. António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the repatriation would “set a very grave international example”. Human-rights groups say the Hmong may face persecution in Laos and that their forced return violates international law. Those linked to ragtag Hmong rebels in remote mountain areas are deemed particularly vulnerable.

Laos has insisted that all who return will be resettled peacefully. It denies discriminating against the Hmong, one of dozens of minorities in a poor, landlocked country. But Thailand’s refusal to grant the UNHCR access to the camp makes it unknowable how many had genuine fears of persecution and how many were merely economic migrants.

Thailand’s prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, came to power a year ago promising to restore the rule of law. That pledge does not seem to extend to refugees. Last January the Thai army was revealed to have pushed back hundreds of Rohingya Muslim boat people from Myanmar who then drowned or went missing at sea.

For Hmong insurgents in Laos, relief may ultimately come from California, from where an exiled former leader, Vang Pao, occasionally plots armed revolution at home. Now 80, Vang Pao said recently that he wants to go home to make peace with his Communist foes. Nearly 35 years after the fall of Saigon, America’s Indochina war is not over yet.

1 comment:

M. LIV said...

hi, i'm in Laos right now and was talking to some of the people here about this. the initial response is usually "it's the government's decision"; however, there is also an amount of unhappiness that people who left the country will get money and food and land, etc. while the people who stayed in Laos during the revolution and have worked hard, have not had that opportunity.
i do not speak Lao, so my interaction has been with people who speak English which will alter the test pool, so take this for what it is, just a person on the street asking people.
I think a lot of dissatisfaction with the decision has to do with country and/or party loyalty. the people who stayed in Laos see themselves as patriotic and the Hmong who left, well left their country in the eyes of many here, or so it seems.
I don't really understand Thailand's inability to integrate the Hmong people there, because i'm pretty sure that the Hmong people traditionally straddle the border and it would seem that the boundary shouldn't matter if these people stretched across it.
i don't know much more about the situation. i will be heading down to Vientiane, the capital, tomorrow. Maybe I can find out some information there.