Thursday, July 2, 2009
By Nancy Ly
Special to The Bee
Published: Sunday, Jun. 28, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 28, 2009 - 10:55 am
Hanging on the wall in the living room of my parents' south Sacramento home is a black-and-white photo of my father dressed in army fatigues. He does not look much older than 19 in the picture, but by the time the photo was taken, my father had already been fighting for the United States in the Vietnam War for several years.
My father was one of thousands of Hmong tribesmen and boys recruited and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency from 1961 to 1975 to support the United States' war efforts in Laos in what is known as the "secret war." As many as 150,000 Hmong died in the war and its direct aftermath, nearly half of the Hmong population in Laos. More than three decades after the official end of the Vietnam War, hundreds of Hmong in Thailand and Laos continue to die and suffer because of their support for the United States.
America has always honored its veterans and fallen heroes. Just as we are concerned with veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, we need to be concerned with veterans from past wars. The Hmong are American veterans and need to be treated with the respect and honor that Americans give all their veterans and fallen heroes.
The Hmong who were unable to escape Laos after the communist takeover of the country took refuge in the jungles, where thousands remain today. The Hmong hiding in the jungles live in catastrophic conditions. They face frequent military attacks, starvation and diseases, as indicated in a 2007 Amnesty International report. Many in the jungles are women, children and elders who pose no threat to Laos.
Several reporters from the BBC, the New York Times and Al Jazeera have made clandestine visits to the Hmong in the jungles. The horrific images and footage smuggled out by these reporters show a very one-sided battle. With a few American-issued weapons left over from the Vietmam War, the Hmong defend themselves against frequent targeted military attacks.
The plight of the Hmong has carried over to Thailand, where approximately 5,000 Hmong have been living in deteriorating conditions since 2004 at Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in the Thai province of Petchaban. In 2007, in accord with the Lao government, the Thai government began forcibly repatriating the Hmong back to Laos, from which they had fled to escape persecution.
Here in America, the Hmong community has been fighting for years to end the crisis in Thailand and Laos. With urging from the Hmong community, 31 members of Congress sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week asking the State Department to work with the Thai government to stop the mistreatment of the Hmong.
Hmong leaders across the country are asking President Barack Obama and Clinton to urge the governments of Thailand and Laos to:
• Immediately provide humanitarian aid to Hmong refugees in Thailand and the Hmong in the jungles of Laos.
• Immediately stop the repatriation of Hmong refugees from Thailand to Laos.
• Allow the international community or an independent third party to conduct proper screening of the Hmong, and allow those refugees who qualify under international law for protection to resettle in third countries, specifically in the United States, Canada, France and Australia, where there is already a sizable Hmong population.
• Monitor all returns to Laos to assure their voluntary nature.
It is time for our national leaders to step forward and put an end to the Hmong crisis abroad. Without urgency and pressure from Obama and Clinton, the Thai and Lao governments will continue their abuse of the Hmong.
The picture of my father has been in my parents' living room for more than 20 years, but it was not until this past Memorial Day that I learned about my father's heroics in the Vietnam War. I never asked my father about the picture, and like many veterans, he never volunteered to talk about the war.
The Hmong community refuses to remain silent any longer on this issue. We are asking questions and demanding answers. Sacramento County is home to the third-largest Hmong population in the country with more than 30,000 Hmong. Chances are you have Hmong neighbors, friends, co-workers or classmates.
Please help these veterans and their families. Call Obama at (202) 456-1111 and Clinton at (202) 647-5291 and ask them to help America's forgotten veterans and their families.