Thursday, June 3, 2010
In December, more than 3,500 Hmong refugees were forcibly deported from Thailand to Laos.
Seven months later, Caitlin Lee, board president of the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, said there still are concerns for the returnees, including the immigration process, safety and living conditions. Then there is the matter of how to help them as they resettle.
"When are they (the Lao government) going to start allowing international organizations and nongovernmental organizations in to help monitor this whole process?" she asked.
These concerns played major roles in a meeting Wednesday at UW-Eau Claire hosted by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, for members of the local Hmong community. Joining Kind at the meeting was Ravic Huso, the U.S. ambassador to Laos, who visited the southeast Asian nation earlier this year. Huso attended a similar session with U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., on Tuesday night in the Twin Cities.
Most Hmong people made the move from Laos to Thailand in the 1970s after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and Laos became a communist nation, according to the Hmong International Human Rights Watch website. At the time, they became targets of retaliation and persecution, and while some remained to live under the new government, thousands immigrated to Thailand.
Kind said he considers the issue a high priority, especially the security, treatment and conditions the Hmong returnees are facing. He said he has discussed the situation with other members of Congress and the Lao embassy in Washington, D.C.
"I felt it was important for them, the Lao government, to hear from us, not only the administration but members of Congress, that we are concerned about this," he said.
Cha Lor, interim director of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, said he wonders how long returnees will stay in resettlement camps, adding he thinks the camps are not a good place.
"We wonder and are kind of concerned about people over there," he said.
Lee said questions asked during the meeting focused on the conditions of the resettlement camps. Huso said the camps are very basic with shelter, water and electricity. He added that there is little in terms of infrastructure, such as schools, clinics and agricultural land.
"So, what people really need is they need some assistance, some integrated development assistance to get themselves a new start in their lives," he said.
Huso said assistance offered by the U.S. would not be direct, but rather through a developmental agency or international organization. The aid could take many forms, with the main purpose being for returnees to generate income.