Hmong families fearful for deported relatives

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yang Vang (Nyiaj Yaj) in Craigieburn with his mother Mab Yai and children Ywj Pheej (in his arms), Tsha Lij and Pa Nub Wi.

UNTIL yesterday, Craigieburn man Va Yang, 56, was looking forward to a family reunion with two cousins waiting in a refugee camp on the Thai border to come to Australia.

Speaking to one of his cousins by phone last Friday, he excitedly told him that international officials were ''coming to help them get out of Thailand''.

The pair had already been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, and granted visas two years ago by the Australian Government, he said.

But instead of taking up a new life in Australia, they were among 158 Hmong people herded out of the Nong Khai detention camp and put on buses to be deported to Laos on Monday.

Mr Yang is now fearful for his cousins' safety. Both are married, one with six children and the other with four.

Mr Yang fled Laos more than 30 years ago after his father was targeted by the communist government for working for the CIA.

He said that the Laotian Government had set up a camp for forcibly repatriated Hmong refugees last year, and some of them had since ''disappeared''.

Chai Vue, a committee member of the Hmong Australia Association in Melbourne, said he phoned Hmong living near the Thai border yesterday and learned that the refugees were caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of Thai soldiers who were there to deport them.

Mr Vue said that the Australian Government had a responsibility to press the Laotian Government to allow those deported to come to Australia, as it had already ''put up its hand to resettle them''.

The former Howard government agreed to accept 200 Hmong from Thai refugee camps under its offshore humanitarian program, Mr Vue said.

''About 40 0r 50 were supposed to come to Australia in March 2007, but their flight was cancelled because the Thai Government refused them exit permits,'' he said.

Yang Vang, president of the Hmong Australia Association in Melbourne, said he had been due to meet a friend from that flight, when he was told it was cancelled.

The Hmong are the third-largest ethnic group in Laos and mainly live in the mountains. About 600 Hmong live in Melbourne, mostly around the Craigieburn, Meadow Heights, Roxburgh Park and Greenvale areas, Mr Vang said.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said last night: ''We are aware of the group and, subject to them continuing to meet the standard requirements for humanitarian visas including health and character requirements, they will be able to enter Australia.''


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