Wednesday, January 27, 2010
THOUSANDS of ethnic Hmong expelled from Thailand last month, including 158 UN-recognised refugees, have been returned to their original homes in Laos or resettled in new villages, says the Lao Government.
Bangkok sparked outrage in late December when it defied global criticism and used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4500 Hmong from camps on the border with communist Laos.
The Hmong, a Southeast Asian ethnic group, were seeking asylum in Thailand saying they risked persecution by the Lao regime for fighting alongside US forces in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s.
"All of them, they went back to their homes or to the development villages," Government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing said.
The "development" villages are the Government's term for newly-built communities.
The dispersal occurred after a 14-day transitional period following the returnees' repatriation, said a diplomat source who declined to be named.
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Rights advocates have voiced fear the returnees would face persecution but the diplomat said there have been no reports of mistreatment although some had complained about living conditions in the new villages.
Foreign embassies seeking access to the returnees have been told they must wait until the Hmong settle in to their new surroundings.
"In a way, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt but... would prefer access now because, you can imagine, delay breeds suspicion," the diplomat said.
Thailand broke international law by sending back the Hmong recognised by the United Nations as refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said. Thailand and Laos both say the Hmong were illegal economic immigrants.
Khenthong Nuanthasing said that the group of 158 have also gone back to their homes or to the new villages.
"To my knowledge, up to now no one requested for resettlement in a third country," he said.
He said at the time of the repatriation that the returnees would be given free transport, a supply of rice, and other reintegration assistance.
US congressmen who visited Laos, including Pha Lak village where some Hmong resettled, said they saw no sign they were ill-treated.