Laos, Thailand Hmong Refugee Crisis: US Congress Urges UN Access, Resettlement Abroad

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

WASHINGTON & BANGKOK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), and 11 Members of Congress, have sent a letter to the Lao government asking it to grant the United Nations access to thousands of Lao Hmong refugees recently forced back to Laos from Thailand by the Thai Army. The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA), in Washington, D.C., and others, are highlighting the Congressional letter and encouraging policymakers to address this urgent refugee, human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR).

The letter was co-signed by Representatives Dan Burton (D-IN), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Steve Kagen (D-WI), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Ron Kind (D-WI), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), and Bill Delahunt (D-MA).

“We are writing to express our concern regarding the nearly 4,700 Lao Hmong refugees who have been repatriated by the Royal Thai Government to Laos in recent days,” the Members of Congress wrote. “We urgently ask the government of Laos to treat all of the returnees humanely, guarantee access to the international community for independent monitoring, and allow those who are eligible for resettlement to be resettled without delay.”

“According to the Royal Thai Army, between 500 and 800 Lao Hmong in Huay Nam Khao camp alone were in danger of being persecuted upon return to Laos… We also ask that you grant the United Nations and other agencies access for independent monitoring…,” the letter said.

“This Congressional letter to the Lao Government is a first step in resolving the Hmong refugee debacle in Laos. Based on past experience, the LPDR is likely to view statements from the House Foreign Relations Committee as only ‘gestures’ which can be ignored because no real actions or penalties will result,” said Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, author of the award winning book "Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, The Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos" and a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

“To get the attention of the LPDR, it will be wise for Congress to hold hearings, requesting international agencies, such as Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch to present their well-researched warnings about the dangers of any forced repatriation of the Hmong in Thailand back to Laos without unfettered, independent, international screening of this population, to identify those who have a well-founded fear of persecution…” Dr. Hamilton-Merritt stated.

"Laos should grant the UNHCR and other humanitarian and human rights organizations access to all Hmong refugees,” said Vaughn Vang of the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council.

“Chairman Berman’s letter regarding the plight of the Lao Hmong refugees, is important; Unfortunately, however, after two years, the Lao military junta continues to deny the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and human rights organizations, access to the over 8,000 Lao Hmong refugees brutally forced from Thailand to Laos from 2007-2009,” said Philip Smith, Director of the CPPA.

Smith explained further: “After over a month, the recent group of 4,700 Lao Hmong refugees subjected to mass forced repatriation by the Thai and Lao military on December 28, 2009, have been largely isolated by the Lao army and LPDR regime; Hundreds are imprisoned in harsh conditions in various secret camps and prisons that are off-limits to the UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other organizations,” Smith explained. “Most of the refugees, including the 158 from Nong Khai, wish to be resettled abroad despite the Lao government’s denials and propaganda.”

“Beneath thin diplomatic language, Vientiane’s responses, when there is any response at all, are as likely to be perfunctory evasions as honest answers,” said The Honorable Howard Eugene Douglas, U.S. Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for Refugee Affairs (1981 – 1985). “Vientiane might wish to decide if it wants to be stuck in the rut of a pugnacious post-Vietnam attitude syndrome or behave like the society it pretends to be. The case of the Hmong just might be the catalyst for how the United States will view the Lao government’s true intentions.”


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