Wednesday, July 30, 2008

By Joe Davy
Published Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Hmong "refugees" or "economic migrants"? Let the Thai and Lao governments decide?

For the first two years (2004-2006), the Lao government adamantly denied that the influx of Hmong refugees arriving at Huay Nam Khao camp in Thailand had originated from Laos . Repeated attempts by the Thai government to get cooperation from the Lao side to deport this fast growing population met with continuing resistance and denial from the Lao government claiming that these Hmong were not Lao citizens.

It was during this period, on December 5, 2005, that the Thai side deported a group of some 27 Hmong Christians due to the fact that they had wandered outside the designated grounds of the camp. The group included a woman pastor Zoua Yang along with 5 boys and 21 girls, all in their teens.

The Lao government continued to deny that the group was ever deported to Laos , but finally under immense international pressure and negative news coverage produced the 21 girls some 16 months later, releasing them from prison.

About 12-13 of these girls later re-escaped to Thailand and re-united with their families, telling them of their 16 months in jail. I had personally talked with three of the girls who claimed to have been beaten and sexually molested during their first two months of detainment. They claimed that the Christian pastor and five boys were separated from them and taken to another jail. To this day, the Lao government continues to deny having any knowledge of them.

One former diplomat had later learned that the Lao government’s reason for secretly detaining the group was due to suspicions that they were operating a "Christian missionary cell".
June 22, 2008 deportations - some were forced

Among the group of 837 Hmong deported from Huay Nam Khao camp on June 22, 2008, were the mothers of two of these girls. Both Xiong Mee Lee and Ma Thao were reportedly forcibly deported by Thai authorities (along with other leaders of the protest), after confronting the Thais with their fears of returning to Laos, due to what happened to their daughters when the Thai forcibly deported them back in December 2005.

Ma Thao also has two sons that belonged to the group of five boys who remain secretly detained in a Lao prison somewhere in northern Laos . I have also received an unconfirmed report claiming that the Lao government will be putting Ma Thao on trial for her leadership activities in Huay Nam Khao camp.

Hmong refugees being discriminated against due to Thai and Lao government relations
It is totally appalling that the Thai government continues to single out and target the entire Hmong refugee population, even those with recent war wounds and UNHCR refugee status, as being "economic migrants".

It seems quite obvious to me that the reason behind this blind policy is the Thai government’s former involvement in training these Hmong and their ancestors to fight the Lao communists some 40 years ago. Even after the Lao communists took control of the country the Thai military continued to support and supply arms to the Hmong resistance up until the early 1990s.

Now, the Thais are trying to turn a blind eye to this entire population and label them all as "economic migrants" in favor of good relations with Laos .

If the international community (particularly the UNHCR and foreign diplomatic missions) and news media don’t begin scrutinizing and protesting this flawed policy in a much more vocal way, the Thai and Lao governments will continue to make a mockery of international refugee law and get away with these deportations.

Joe Davy
Hmong Advocate
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