Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thailand: Release the Hmong refugees NOW!

New Delhi, 16 Jan. 2008

On 15 January 2008, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) once again urged the government of Thailand to release the 149 Hmong refugees from Laos including 90 children who have been illegally detained at the Nong Khai Immigration Detention Centre since they were arrested in Bangkok in December 2006.

Earlier, on 20 August 2007, UNHCR had called upon Thailand to release these refugees stating that they have been illegally detained in “truly inhumane conditions” without any basis. But the Thai military junta did not pay any heed to the plea.

Thailand has been cruel to the Hmong refugees and forcibly refouled many refugees to Laos although they face persecution at the hands of the Laotian authorities. Thailand has also refused to provide access to the UNHCR or any other international monitoring mission to monitor the refoulement and resettlement of the refugees. The whereabouts of the refouled refugees are not known.

Hmongs are minority hill tribe who face persecution at the hands of the Loas government because they had sided with the US forces in the Vietnam war. But Thailand has treated them as “illegal immigrants” and forcibly sent them back to Laos. On 6 August 2007, Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont stated that the Hmong refugees entered Thailand “illegally” and failure to send them back to Laos would create a “never-ending problem” for Thailand.

On 20 September 2007, the Thai military government signed an agreement with Laos agreeing to deport over 7,700 Hmong refugees who have been sheltered in refugee camps before the end of 2008. But without the involvement of the UNHCR or international human rights NGO to monitor the wellbeing of the Hmongs prior to and after their repatriation to Laos, the repatriation of the ethnic Hmongs will be illegitimate. Under such circumstances, the situation will be alike to handing over somebody to the wolves.

Although Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Thai government has obligations under international law to protect the fundamental rights of the refugees. The UNHCR said these 149 refugees have been offered asylum in other countries. So, why imprison them and ruin their lives?

Release them NOW!

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