Hmong Refugees in Thailand at Risk of Humanitarian Crisis as Medecins Sans Frontieres Withdraws

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors without Borders as they are otherwise known, runs the risk of creating a humanitarian crisis if it goes ahead with plans to withdraw from a Hmong refugee camp in Northern Thailand in protest at the Thai governments treatment of Hmong.

This warning was sounded yesterday by Yap Swee Seng, director of Forum-Asia, a regional human rights organization with 42 member-organisztions across the region.

MSF announced earlier in the week that due to ongoing difficulties and barriers put in its way by the Thailand government, it was discontinuing its work at the Huay Nam Khao camp in Petchabun province.

MSF said it will withdraw the medical and other aid it has been providing more than 5,000 Hmong refugees to protest what it describes as "coercive tactics" and action by the Thai military against the Hmong.

At a press conference on Wednesday, May 20, MSF Thailand director, Gilles Isard, said the group is working with UNICEF to hand over responsibilities of caring for the camp's residents to another NGO, but so far no replacement had been found.

MSF claims to have had continual problems with Thai military officials and the Thai Army's psychological operations unit in Phitsanulok.

However, Mr Yap said protesting in this manner and withdrawing services will hurt the very people MSF are supposed to be helping and will cause the Hmong greater difficulties and discomfort and could result in a humanitarian crisis.

Mr Yap said he had, "personally never heard of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) protesting working conditions imposed by a host country by withdrawing its services before. Usually it is a government telling an NGO they are no longer welcome.

"It's a matter of grave concern... it will be very unfortunate if the assistance supplied to this camp is cut off. The community will suffer and with the wet season now underway they [Hmong refugees] will be more in need of medical care than in the dry season. Their protest action could result in a humanitarian crisis," he said.

A similar view was expressed by Steve Gumaer, head of Partners World, an NGO that runs programs for orphaned and displaced children, provides emergency relief, development, and capacity building with other minority groups under the name of Partners in Thailand's northern and northwestern provinces.

Mr Gumaer said he had "never heard of an NGO protesting in a manner like this before. "It's just going to make it worse for the Hmong refugees. It's not going to shake the Thais. It sounds like the wrong way of going about making their point".

MSF claims, "the Thai military's scare tactics to pressure ethnic Laos Hmong refugees to accept a forced return to Laos and its intensifying restrictions on MSF's activities, such as trying to force MSF to temporarily cutting (sic) food distributions to the refugee population and forcing patients to pass through military control to obtain medical care, have compelled MSF to terminate its medical relief program."

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