Monday, July 21, 2008
BANGKOK, THAILAND: Australia will accept 20 ethnic Hmong asylum-seekers from Laos from a group of about 8,000 living in a Thai refugee camp, the Australian foreign minister said.
"Australia stands ready willing and able to take the small number of Hmong people assessed as being eligible for protection in Australia," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters at a joint press conference Friday (4 July) with his Thai counterpart, Noppadon Pattama.
Noppadon said Thailand would not forcibly repatriate the 8,000 Hmong refugees at the camp in Phetchabun province in the north. Many of the Hmong say they fear persecution on political grounds if they return to their communist homeland.
More than 800 Hmong were repatriated in June, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern some were sent against their will.
Many Hmong fought on the side of a pro-U.S. Laotian government in the 1960s and '70s before the communist takeover of their country in 1975.
More than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, fled to Thailand after the takeover. Most were resettled in third countries, particularly the U.S., although several thousand were voluntarily repatriated to Laos.
Many lingered in Thai refugee camps. In May 2005, the last official major camp in Thailand was closed, and in what was supposed to be the final big movement of Hmong refugees, some 15,000 were relocated to the United States.
But thousands more slipped through the cracks, joining an unofficial refugee settlement alongside a Thai Hmong community in Phetchabun, 185 miles (300 kilometers) north of the capital, Bangkok. (AP)