Monday, December 28, 2009
BANGKOK: Thailand will begin repatriating more than 4,000 ethnic Hmong refugees to Laos on Monday despite strong international opposition to the move, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Saturday.
The New York-based international rights group said that armed forces had been mobilised for the deportation from a camp in northern Phetchabun province where the Hmong are being held.
"The first wave of action to clear the camp will happen on December 27 night, and the deportation can start on December 28 morning," according to an email sent to AFP by HRW Thailand analyst Sunai Phasuk.
"During that (period), mobile phone (signals) will be jammed to prevent the Hmong from contacting outsiders. More than 100 buses and trucks are put on standby," he said, adding that the army would be in charge of the operation.
A spokesman for the Thai government could not immediately be reached for comment.
The 4,000 Hmong are seeking asylum based on claims that they face persecution from the Laotian regime for fighting alongside US forces during the Vietnam War.
Thailand has promised Laos, which insists the group will be safe after their return, that they would be sent back by the end of the year.
Thailand said the Hmong are economic migrants and refused to grant the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to them to assess whether any are, in fact, political refugees.
The United States said it was "deeply concerned about reports of the imminent and involuntary deportation" and Antonio Guterres, the head of the UN refugee agency, on Thursday urged Thailand to call off the deportation.