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Deportation Will Not Solve the “Hmong Problem”

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In an attempt to curb the flow of Hmong asylum seekers leaving Laos, the Thai government has announced plans to deport the almost 8000 Hmong-Lao living in Petchabun who have yet to be assessed by the UNHCR. This planned mass deportation violates international human rights standards and will not stop more Hmong-Lao from coming in the future. 
By the end of 2008, the almost 8000 Hmong-Lao people currently detained in the unofficial Petchabun refugee camp will be forcibly returned to Laos. The Thai and Lao governments have suggested that Hmong-Lao enter Thailand for economic reasons, classifying them as illegal migrants and justifying this mass repatriation. It is possible that economic reasons lie at the root of this migration, but as of yet there is no systematic method to determine the causes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been denied access to the camp and hence has been unable to use the UN process for screening asylum seekers. No deportations should take place until the reasons for migration are clear, distinguishing refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers. 

The growing population in the Petchabun settlement has been a controversial subject for years. The majority of the population in the camp are Hmong, an ethnic minority in Laos. Since late 2006, the government of Thailand has been deporting small groups back to Laos without establishing the latter’s reasoning for leaving the country in the first place. Not establishing their status opens the door to increased vulnerability for legitimate refugees. 

As no monitoring mechanism exists for repatriated Hmong-Lao, there is no guarantee that returnees are safe from discrimination or persecution resulting from their attempts to flee the country. The government of Laos denies persecuting Hmong-Lao but an array of reputable organisations have reported detailed accounts of persecution.

Laos is party to the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and has been reprimanded by the respective Committee for the numerous reports of human rights violations perpetrated against the Hmong-Lao. Thailand is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, but as a member of the UN, it is obligated to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. Sending the Hmong back to Laos is a clear violation of this obligation.

Addressing the situation of the Hmong-Lao cannot be the sole responsibility of the Thai government. Third countries have offered resettlement to Hmong-Lao asylum seekers yet have remained silent amid announcements of repatriation and the absence of screening mechanisms. These third countries must take a clear, public stance towards the planned repatriation of the 8000 Hmong-Lao in Petchabun and the 149 in the Nong Kai Immigration and Detention Center.

The government of Laos must allow independent human rights monitors and reporters to talk freely with the Hmong-Lao; it must be transparent about what is transpiring within its borders. Until this happens, negative speculation on the treatment of the repatriated people will continue.

A sustainable solution must be sought for the ongoing problem of outmigration from Laos. Talk of building a model village for the repatriated Hmong-Lao will not hide the fact that the people of Laos continue to struggle to meet their basic needs. Sending almost 8000 Hmong-Lao back to Laos will not stop others from leaving the country.

For more information, please contact:

Bernice Aquino See, Ethnic Minorities in Southeast Asia Programme, +66 (02) 391 8801 (ext 104), [email protected]