US lawmakers press Thailand on Hmong refugees

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hmong refugee families stand behind bars at a Thai detention centre in Nong Khai province

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Thirty-one members of the US Congress appealed Thursday for pressure on Thailand to help Hmong refugees, voicing fear for their safety if they return to Laos.

Paris-based Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, last month pulled out of a camp where it fed some 4,700 Hmong, accusing Thailand of trying to forcibly repatriate them to Laos, where they fear persecution.

The lawmakers urged US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reach out directly to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Royal Thai Army to halt repatriations and allow outside access to the Huai Nam Khao camp.

The letter to Clinton, spearheaded by Representative Patrick Kennedy of America's famous political dynasty, voiced appreciation for Thailand's historical hospitality to refugees.

"We are confident that with the appropriate engagement by the US, the Royal Thai Government will recognize that maintaining a positive humanitarian record is in its best interests," the letter said.

The Hmong, a hill people, fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam War, incurring the wrath for years to come of the communist government in Laos.

Doctors Without Borders, in pulling out of the camp, said Hmong refugees who fled to Thailand recounted killings, gang-rape and malnutrition inflicted by Laotian forces.

The US lawmakers also urged Clinton to press Thailand to release 158 Hmong who sneaked out of the Huai Nam Khao camp and have been in detention since December 2006, despite being granted UN refugee status.

Nearly 250,000 Hmong have resettled in the United States. Australia has said it is willing to resettle some of the Hmong in limbo in Thailand.


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