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Open Asylum Process Needed In Thailand

Thailand’s cooperation repatriating members of the Hmong people to neighboring Laos continues to cause concern in many quarters. Late last month (June), the government sent eight-hundred-thirty-seven asylum seekers back to Laos, part of a larger group that had taken part in a demonstration at their detention camp protesting the repatriation policy. Refugee advocacy groups contend some were sent back involuntarily to Laos where they have a long history of conflict with the authorities.

The Thai and Laotian governments deny using duress in the deportations. A spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry said the protestors left voluntarily and asked their families to leave with them after giving up hope of resettlement in a third country.

Thailand has a long history of providing temporary sanctuary to the Hmong and others fleeing their homelands. Tens of thousands of Hmong flocked there in the years following the Vietnam War, when many Hmong tribesmen were strong supporters of the United States. While many have been resettled in the U.S. and other nations, approximately seven thousand are currently being housed in two Thai army camps rather than return to Laos. The Bangkok government, however, doesn’t acknowledge them as refugees, classifying them as displaced persons or economic migrants to discourage further inflows. It is a situation frustrating to both the Hmong and their Thai hosts.

As Thai officials continue the repatriations, the U.S. will continue to urge that they not forcibly return anyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution in Laos. The asylum process must be open and transparent. While the U.S. Government does not intend to open any special refugee resettlement program for Hmong in Thailand, the U.S. stands ready to consider on a case-by-case basis referrals of those Hmong found to be in need of resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.