By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BANGKOK, Thailand – The United Nation’s refugee agency urged Thailand to release 149 ethnic Hmong from Laos. The Hmong have been detained for more than 400 hundred days even though several countries have offered to take them in. They were rounded up in Bangkok in November 2006 for deportation.
The refugees fled persecution in Laos. Many Hmong sided with the pro-U.S. Laotian government in the 1960’s and 1970’s before the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. After the communist takeover in 1975, almost 300,000 Hmong fled to Thailand. Most resettled in third countries, and several thousand were voluntarily repatriated in Laos. UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Erika Feller said, “They have been recognized as in need of international protection, and they should be allowed to take up the offer already made to them to leave Thailand and start to live productive lives and have a future in other countries.”
Thailand, however, recognizes the 149 refugees as migrants and contends they violated Thai law by entering the country illegally. Nearly 300 others were deported in 2006. The 149 refugees presently detained were on the brink of being repatriated to Laos on January 1, 2007 until international pressure halted the move.
The refugees underwent a hunger strike last August. They declare that they would rather die than return to Laos.
The refugees include 90 children. Five children have been born while in detention. The UN’s refugee agency is concerned about the conditions the Laotians live in and the education of the children. Spokeswoman Erika Feller said, “We are particularly concerned that 90 children, including five born in detention, are being held in these sub-standard conditions. They should not be locked up and should be getting a proper education.” Thai authorities have only recently allowed the refugees out of their cells for three hours a day.
For more information, please see:
Radio Free Asia – UN Urges Thailand to Free Lao Hmong – 15 January 2008
Reuters – UNHCR Urges Thailand to Release Hmong Refugees – 15 January 2008
UN News Centre – UN Agency Urges Release of Laotians Held in Thailand for More than a Year – 14 January 2008