Tuesday, December 29, 2009
A Thai policewoman holds a Hmong child refugee at the Ban Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun province, about 416 km (258 miles) northeast of Bangkok, yesterday. The Thai army began the forced repatriation of thousands of ethnic Hmong asylum-seekers to Laos, yesterday, defying international concerns that some would be persecuted back home.
PHETCHABUN -- Thailand sent army troops with shields and batons to evict more than 4,000 ethnic Hmong asylum-seekers Monday and send them back to Laos despite strong objections from the U.S. and rights groups who fear they will face persecution.
Under tight security, all 4,371 of the Hmong were loaded onto covered military trucks and driven out of the camp by late afternoon toward buses waiting near the Lao border, Thai authorities said. Journalists kept at a distance from the camp could see many children inside the trucks.
Col. Thana Charuwat said Thai troops “didn't even touch” the Hmong who offered no resistance as they were taken from the camp.
With the eviction under way, the United States called for it to stop.
“The United States strongly urges Thai authorities to suspend this operation,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement, noting that the United Nations and Thailand in the past had deemed that many of the Hmong in this group were “in need of protection because of the threats they might face in Laos.”
The Hmong, an ethnic minority group from Laos' rugged mountains, helped U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. Many Hmong fought under CIA advisers during the so-called “secret war” in Laos before it fell to the communists in 1975.
Since the communist victory, more than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, are known to have fled to Thailand. Most were either repatriated to Laos or resettled in third countries, particularly the United States. Smaller numbers found refuge in France, Australia and Canada.
The Hmong claim they have been persecuted by the Lao government, but Washington has said it has no plans to resettle more of them in the U.S.
The Thai government claims most of the Hmong are economic migrants who entered the country illegally and have no claims to refugee status. The group was being held at an overcrowded camp in northern Thailand that the government wants to close.