Tuesday, December 29, 2009
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday it had asked Laos to grant it access to more than 4,000 Hmong asylum-seekers deported from camps in Thailand.
In a statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees also urged the Thai government to detail assurances it had received from the Laos communist government on future treatment of the Hmong, who say they face oppression if sent back.
"The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has today formally approached the government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic seeking access to Lao Hmong who were deported from Thailand on Monday," the Geneva-based agency said.
Some of those sent back were recognized by the UNHCR as having refugee status and needing international protection, it said.
The expulsion sparked criticism from the United States and Europe.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was concerned about the expulsion of the Hmong, who "included individuals the Thai government had reportedly assessed to be in need of protection," his office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ban "regrets that these deportations have taken place in the face of appeals from the (UNHCR) and despite the availability of third country resettlement solutions for those recognized as refugees," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban urged Thailand and Laos "to take all necessary steps to respect the rights of those concerned and to facilitate humane solutions," Nesirky said.
Known as America's "forgotten allies," the Hmong sided with the United States during the Vietnam War and many fled Laos in 1975 when the communist Pathet Lao took power. Tens of thousands have since been resettled in the United States.
The UNHCR said that despite Thailand's "long history as a country of asylum," it had deported the Lao Hmong from two camps, one in the northern province of Petchabun and another in Nong Khai in the country's northeast.
"UNHCR was given no access to people in the first camp, while those in Nong Khai were all recognized refugees," it said.
A Lao government spokesman said on Monday the concerns were groundless and the Hmong being repatriated were illegal migrants who would be housed in resettlement villages.
Thailand and Laos reached an agreement in March to repatriate the Hmong.