Mar 26, 2010
Visit to Hmong village allowed
PHONKHAM VILLAGE (Laos) – THE Laotian government allowed UN agencies and top diplomats brief access Friday to a village housing thousands of ethnic Hmong who were expelled from Thailand in December.
In an attempt to quell international concerns about the group, officials led a tightly-controlled trip via helicopter to remote Phonkham village, a newly-built community in central Bolikhamsay province.
Bangkok sparked a global outcry in December when it used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 Hmong from camps in northern Thailand to its communist neighbour. The group included 158 people recognised as refugees by the United Nations.
Hmong are a Southeast Asian ethnic group who fear persecution for fighting alongside US forces in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Thailand and Laos both said the Hmong were illegal economic immigrants.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was never given access to the vast majority of the Hmong in Thai camps to assess if any were in fact refugees, despite concerns that a significant number would need international protection. But a UNHCR official was invited to take part in Friday’s short visit, along with representatives of the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
‘We’re glad the Laotian government did invite us to go… I think it’s a good first step,’ said UNHCR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey. ‘We would like an opportunity to talk to the people who returned.’ The visitors included about 20 Western diplomats including the US ambassador to Laos, European Union delegates, and foreign reporters. — AFP