A UN High Commissioner for Refugees official protested Thailand’s move to forcibly repatriate some 4,000 ethnic Hmong back to Laos. “UNHCR is extremely dismayed that Thailand has commenced the deportations of the Lao Hmong today from the camp in Phetchabun,” said Ariane Rummery, UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok. “We don’t have access to the area, but we have had reports that deportations began this morning and about 400 people have been removed so far.”
According to local media reports, more than a dozen trucks, accompanied by security forces, were seen transporting the first group of deportees from the camp in Huay Nam Khao village in the northern province of Phetchabun. The UNHCR does not assume that all of these people would necessarily be refugees. However, it has in the past received information from the Thai government that some of the Hmong have international protection needs. “For this reason we think there should have been a more transparent process and that those who do have protection needs should not be forcibly returned,” she said.
Complicating matters further is the plight of 158 UNHCR-recognized Hmong refugees currently being held separately in Nong Kai in northeastern Thailand. The Thai government has expressed its intention to deport this group as well.
Over the years thousands of Hmong have sought asylum in Thailand claiming that they face persecution by the Laos government for having fought alongside US forces in the 1960s and early ’70s. Thailand says the Hmong are merely illegal economic migrants.
“Forced returns of persons entitled to protection is inconsistent with international practice and Thailand’s long history of protection of refugees,” said Mark Toner, a US State Department spokesman. He urged Thailand to “refrain from forcibly returning Lao Hmong who merit protection.” (IRIN, Dec. 28)