US won't take Hmong

Thursday, July 30, 2009

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation
Published on July 31, 2009

Phetchabun - United States' officials have told Hmong refugees in Ban Huay Nam Khao that Washington has no policy to take them for resettlement in the US.

A delegation led by Samuel Witten, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration visited the camp in Phetchabun yesterday to gain first-hand information on the Hmong. He wanted to keep his visit low-key and refused to talk to the media about the trip.

But it's known Witten met with Colonel Chavalit Rianchaeng, deputy commander of the Khao Kho Task Force, and insisted the US had no policy to take the Hmong refugees to the US. Also, Washington would not intervene in Thai-Lao deals over Hmong repatriation, he told Col Chavalit.

The Americans met with five Hmong representatives at the camp and one - Jongje Loh - had the same message.

"We had no chance of going to America and the US officials came here just to visit us," Jongje said after the meeting. Nevertheless, the refugees were still not willing to return to Laos because of fear of the Lao government, he said.

Timothy Scherer, from the US Embassy in Bangkok, said Witten went to see the work of COERR (Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees, which has taken over the camp from MSF and gets funding from the US.

The US has given some Bt17 million for the refugees through international organisations.

Thailand has sheltered thousands of Hmong since late 2004. Many claim they were close associates with the US CIA's secret fighters against the Communist Lao before the fall of Vientiane.

However the Lao and Thai governments regard them as economic migrants seeking better lives in Thailand and abroad.

Thailand has repatriated 2,904 Hmong so far and plans to send the remaining 4,645 back to Laos by the end of next month.

Jongje said the Hmong had demanded that officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees verify the repatriation.

"Some might be repatriated [safely] to Laos - but some 2,000 Hmong [with] CIA [connections] must not return to Laos since they could be oppressed," he said.


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