As we say, people, they don't live only on rices, but freedom is very important element for human being to live in dignity and in equality
Shown the door
Dec 30th 2009 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition
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.
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.
|Copyright © 2009 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.|
By Ian Timberlake (AFP)
HANOI — Laos insisted Wednesday that the international community need not fear for thousands of ethnic Hmong expelled from Thailand, after the United Nations and US lawmakers sought access to the deportees.
Bangkok sparked outrage on Monday when it defied global criticism and used troops to forcibly repatriate around 4,500 Hmong, including women and children, from camps on the border with communist Laos.
The Hmong, a Southeast Asian ethnic group, were seeking asylum in Thailand saying they risked persecution by the Lao regime for fighting alongside US forces in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s.
“These people, they have nothing to worry about them. They are Lao people. They have come back to their own country,” Lao government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told AFP by telephone from the capital Vientiane.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced regret Tuesday over the expulsions and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had filed a formal request with Laos for access to the Hmong.
Four US senators from Minnesota and Wisconsin, home to much of the US Hmong community, urged immediate and ongoing international monitoring of the resettlement and reintegration.
“On what grounds is UNHCR requesting?” Khenthong said. “It’s a problem between Thailand and UNHCR. It’s not a problem with Laos.”
Thailand and Laos both say the Hmong were illegal economic immigrants and not political refugees as they contended, dismissing concerns by diplomats that they have genuine claims.
One of the deported Hmong contacted AFP by telephone from the central Lao province of Bolikhamsay to say that they had not been mistreated since their arrival but feared for the future.
“My family is OK, everybody is OK,” said the 35-year-old man, who was deported with his wife, mother and five children. “But I worry for the situation in the future. I don’t know if it is safe.”
The man, who asked not to be identified, said they were being held at a detention centre and did not know how long they would be held there but that Lao authorities had made a “new camp” dozens of miles (kilometres) away.
Khenthong said, however, that more than 3,000 Hmong had already returned to Laos in previous years.
“Their lives are much better than in the detention camp in Thailand,” he said.
Foreign delegations can apply to visit the returnees, but the newly-arrived Hmong are still being interviewed by Lao authorities to determine where in Laos they wish to go, Khenthong said.
He said they will be given free transport, a year’s supply of rice, and other reintegration assistance.
Thailand on Monday also sent back a separate group of 158 Hmong with recognised UN refugee status, in a move the UNHCR said was a breach of international law.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya tried to quell international concerns.
“Laos has promised Thailand that they will give good treatment to these people. They will not be jailed and they will be given passports and a chance to meet with third countries that could resettle them,” Kasit told reporters.
“We are confident that they will proceed as promised.”
Kasit said the international community should also “help develop Laos to strengthen Laos” if they wanted to ensure the good treatment of the Hmong.
Thousands of Hmong, a highland people, sided with the United States during the Vietnam War and formed a CIA-funded “secret army” when the conflict spread to Laos.
When the Communists took power in Laos in 1975, Hmong fighters feared the regime would hunt them down for working with the Americans. About 150,000 fled and found homes abroad, mainly in the United States.
Others hid in the Lao jungle, some fighting a low-level rebellion that has been largely quashed. Thousands have fled to neighbouring Thailand, which also backed the United States in the war.
Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved. More »
A Brief History Of
By Christopher Shay / Hong Kong Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009
Asylum seekers ride a Thai military truck out of Ban Huay Nam Khao camp, northeast of Bangkok, Thailand. More than 4000 Hmong are being are being forcibly repatriated to Laos, where they say they will face government persecution. Sukree Sukplang / Reuters
On Dec. 28, Thailand’s military packed more than 4,000 Hmong asylum seekers into trucks and drove them from refugee camps to neighboring Laos, a single-party state that’s been accused of persecuting the group since they backed U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. Thailand now maintains that Hmong living illegally in Thailand are economic migrants, not political refugees in need of international protection — but the decision to forcibly repatriate the Hmong drew international condemnation. Human Rights Watch called the expulsion "appalling," while the U.S. State Department argued the refugees deserved to be protected from threats they faced in their homeland.
The incident is the latest step in a decades-old dance between Laos’ communists, the Hmong and the U.S. In the lead-up to the Vietnam War, North Vietnam carved a maze of transportation routes through the jungles of Laos, creating a crucial supply link later known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Laos was in the middle of a civil war between the Royal Lao government and the Communist Pathet Lao. Seeking to disrupt the North’s supply routes, the Americans enlisted the help of the Royal Lao government’s highest-ranking Hmong leader, Vang Pao. He welcomed American guns, money and expertise, assembling thousands of Hmong fighters from the hills. Together, they’d tackle a common enemy, the communists.(Read ‘Welcome to the Jungle.")
The partnership worked — to a point. Vang Pao’s troops gained a reputation for being fierce jungle fighters who rescued downed U.S. aircrews, gathered military intelligence and fought the communists to a stalemate. The effort was for many years the CIA’s largest covert operation, until the agency funded the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. In 1969, Richard Helms, director of the CIA, told President Richard Nixon that Vang Pao had 39,000 troops engaged in active fighting. But casualties were so bad, he wrote, that Vang Pao’s forces were using teenagers as young as 13 to fill their lines. This massive effort was hidden from the American public for years; it became known as the Secret War, and the Hmong mercenaries as the Secret Army.
After Saigon fell, America abandoned the Secret Army, and in 1975, as many as 10,000 Hmong were slaughtered at the hands of the ascendant Pathet Lao, according to Roger Warner, an author who is researching a book on Vang Pao. Others fled to neighboring Thailand and the U.S., where about 100,000 were eventually resettled. It was not until 1997, that Washington officially acknowledged the valor of the Hmong soldiers who fought for them. A small stone with a copper plaque was placed in their honor between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame in Arlington National Cemetery.(Read "A Blackbird’s Song.")
The plaque has done little to resolve the Hmong’s plight in southeast Asia. Thousands live in poverty in Thailand and a few armed bands still live in the Laotian highlands, refusing to surrender to the Laotian government. Earlier this month, there were signs the conflict might ease: Vang Pao, now 80 and living in California, said he wanted to return home and help reconcile the Hmong and the Communist government in Vientiane. Officials reportedly replied that they’d welcome him back — by executing him. It’s no wonder Thailand’s Hmong refugees are worried the rulers of their homeland still hold a grudge.
UN Demands Access to Lao Hmong Deported By Thailand – New York Times
Published: December 29, 2009
In a statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees also urged the Thai government to detail assurances it had received from the Laos communist government on future treatment of the Hmong, who say they face oppression if sent back.
"The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has today formally approached the government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic seeking access to Lao Hmong who were deported from Thailand on Monday," the Geneva-based agency said.
Some of those sent back were recognized by the UNHCR as having refugee status and needing international protection, it said.
The expulsion sparked criticism from the United States and Europe.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was concerned about the expulsion of the Hmong, who "included individuals the Thai government had reportedly assessed to be in need of protection," his office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ban "regrets that these deportations have taken place in the face of appeals from the (UNHCR) and despite the availability of third country resettlement solutions for those recognized as refugees," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban urged Thailand and Laos "to take all necessary steps to respect the rights of those concerned and to facilitate humane solutions," Nesirky said.
Known as America’s "forgotten allies," the Hmong sided with the United States during the Vietnam War and many fled Laos in 1975 when the communist Pathet Lao took power. Tens of thousands have since been resettled in the United States.
The UNHCR said that despite Thailand’s "long history as a country of asylum," it had deported the Lao Hmong from two camps, one in the northern province of Petchabun and another in Nong Khai in the country’s northeast.
"UNHCR was given no access to people in the first camp, while those in Nong Khai were all recognized refugees," it said.
A Lao government spokesman said on Monday the concerns were groundless and the Hmong being repatriated were illegal migrants who would be housed in resettlement villages.
Thailand and Laos reached an agreement in March to repatriate the Hmong.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Editing by Cynthia Osterman