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Zoe Daniel reported this story on Friday, December 23, 2011 18:22:00
TIM PALMER: Thailand has forcibly returned a registered refugee to Laos for the second time in violation of international law. Ka Yang was one of a group of refugees offered resettlement by a number of countries, including Australia, but he was forcibly deported by Thailand on Christmas Eve 2009.
He subsequently fled Laos again and was in hiding in Thailand until he and his family were arrested by immigration authorities earlier this year. Ka Yang is part of the persecuted Hmong minority, and human rights groups hold grave fears for his safety in Laos, as Southeast Asia correspondent, Zoe Daniel, reports from Bangkok.
ZOE DANIEL: It was an incident that attracted attention from around the world – 158 declared Hmong refugees who are known to face persecution in Laos were deported by Thailand anyway. Sent back into danger on December 24th, 2009.
Various countries, including Australia, had asked for their release and offered resettlement. But regional politics won out over humanity.
Human Rights Watch spokesman, Phil Robertson.
PHIL ROBERTSON: Unfortunately we don’t have an answer from the Thai government, which is continuing to maintain a silence about this. What we suspect is this is connected to Thai-Lao bilateral relations; the Thai trying to prove to the Lao government that their past support for the Hmong is now ended.
And unfortunately Ka Yang and his family and other Hmong refugees are pawns in this game.
ZOE DANIEL: Ka Yang was one of the group, despite a standing offer of resettlement in the United States, he’s still on the run. Having snuck out of Laos again, he and his family were again hiding in Thailand until they were again picked up by immigration authorities earlier this year.
Now, on the eve of Christmas, they’ve been again sent back, twice victims of refoulement which is supposed to prohibit countries from forcibly returning people to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.
PHIL ROBERTSON: Countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, had all offered them refugee resettlement. So Ka Yang actually has a pending resettlement offer from the United States to go to the United States. Unfortunately, the Thai government is not allowing him to exercise that and now have, of course, aborted that a possibility by again deporting him back to Laos.
Unfortunately the problem also is that the Thai government doesn’t have a recognition of refugee status under national law. Persons who are UNHCR (United Nations Human Rights Commissioner) registered refugees are considered by the Thai authorities when they meet them, to be undocumented migrants. There is no provision in Thai law for refugee status.
ZOE DANIEL: Which sort of puts paid to the whole UNHCR process; I mean there’s not much point having a refugee status according to one organisation if others don’t recognise that?
PHIL ROBERTSON: Well, I mean UNHCR does what it can. In this instance they were trying to negotiate with the Thais to not send him back. The US government through their embassy here was also doing the same. Unfortunately the Thai government was not in the mood to listen.
And sometimes it works that UNHCR can prevail on the Thais to cut some people a break or, if they have refugee status, to allow them to go to a third country once that third country actually puts the offer on the table.
But in the case of the Lao Hmong this is a particularly sensitive issue between the Thais and the Laos. And as a I said, the Thais appear to be willing to give short shrift to their obligations under international law on protection of refugees in order to make and build closer ties with the Lao government.
ZOE DANIEL: Ka Yang’s whereabouts is now unknown. His only option may be to again attempt to reach Thailand and international help before he’s once again deported.
In Bangkok, this is Zoe Daniel reporting for PM.