In the years following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, tens of thousands of the Hmong people fled repression and poverty in Laos seeking asylum in nearby Thailand. Over time, most moved on to resettlement in other countries such as the United States or returned to Laos, but in recent years the flight has resumed. Several thousand Hmong asylum-seekers have again gathered in Thailand, where they remain in a crowded army facility, a situation that is frustrating to both the Hmong and their Thai hosts.
Thailand has a long and proud history of providing temporary sanctuary to the Hmong and others fleeing their homelands, but as the flow of refugees continues, Bangkok’s hospitality is wearing thin. Working with the Laotian government, Thai officials repatriated hundreds of Hmong last year, and as many as 8,000 detained at the army camp near the Thai-Laotian border could be sent back soon.
Although some Hmong may be willing to return to Laos voluntarily, others fearing forced repatriation have gone on hunger strikes. There have been other protests too. Last week, a group seeking international attention for their plight burned their shelters at the Huay Nam Khao camp.
Many Hmong tribesmen were strong supporters of the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and in some cases they were combat allies. U.S. officials and members of the U.S. Congress are monitoring the situation closely.
As Thai officials decide what to do about the refugees at Huay Nam Khao, the U.S. will continue to urge they not forcibly return anyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution in Laos. That’s a principle of international law and should be observed.
It’s in both the interest of both the Thai government and international community that each refugee’s need for protection be evaluated fairly and transparently.