HRW Letter to Thailand's Abhisit: More Christmas Day Hope for Hmong Refugees Who Fled Persecution in Laos
"Many of the Lao Hmong refugees forced back from Thailand to Laos from 2007-2009 have been killed, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured or have disappeared at the bloody hands of the Lao military and secret police," said Vaughn Vang of the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington, D..C., New York and Bangkok, Thailand, December 26, 2009 - Human Rights Watch ( HRW ) has released the text of a Christmas Eve letter it has sent to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urging a halt to the deportation of thousands of Lao Hmong asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand back to the communist regime in Laos that they fled. Human Rights Watch,the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ), the U.S. Congress, Amnesty International, the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council, the Center for Public Policy Analysis, the U.S. Department of State and others have made urgent action appeals to stop the mass forced repatriation of Lao Hmong refugees seeking asylum at Ban Huay Nam Khao, Petchabun Province and Nong Khai, Thailand.
U.S. Senators, Russ Feingold ( D-WI ), Patrick Leahy ( D-VT ), Richard Lugar ( R-IN ), Barbara Boxer ( D-CA ), Al Franken ( D-MN ) , Amy Klobuchar ( D-MN ), Mark Begich ( D-AK ), Lisa Murkowski ( R-AK ) and Sheldon Whitehouse ( D-RI ) sent a letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on December 17, 2009, and released it on December 23, 2009, in Washington, D.C., urging Thailand to halt the repartiation of Lao Hmong refugees.
“The Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand are so very grateful to Human Rights Watch for its Christmas Eve letter of appeal to seek to save the refugees in Huay Nam Khao from a brutal forced repatriation back to the communist regime Laos where they have fled terrible religious and political persecution and attacks by the Lao military and secret police,” said Vaughn Vang, Director of the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “Many of the Lao Hmong refugees forced back from Thailand to Laos from 2007-2009 have been killed, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured or have disappeared at the bloody hands of the Lao military and secret police.” http://media-newswire.com/release_1108090.html http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0912/S00207.htm
“In addition to the critical letter by Human Rights Watch, a crystal clear statement by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy also calls into question the future of the Thai United States military relationship because of the deplorable policy of General Anupong Paochinda, Defense Prawit Wongsuwon, Prime Minister Abhisit and other Thai defense and military policymakers in seeking to force the Hmong to Laos,” Smith said.
“U.S. Senators, Russ Feingold ( D-WI ), Patrick Leahy ( D-VT ), Richard Lugar ( R-IN ), Barbara Boxer ( D-CA ), Al Franken ( D-MN ) , Amy Klobuchar ( D-MN ), Mark Begich ( D-AK ), Lisa Murkowski ( R-AK ) and Sheldon Whitehouse ( D-RI ) sent the letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on December 17, 2009, and released it on December 23, 2009, in Washington, D.C. following reports of more Thai soldiers and a large troop convoy of over 50 army trucks and buses being deployed at the main Hmong refugee camp at Ban Huay Nam Khao to force nearly 5,000 political refugees back to Laos over the Christmas and New Year holiday season,” Smith explained.
“Multiple sources inside the Hmong refugee camp have reported that a large Thai military convoy with dozens of buses and army trucks has arrived in the early morning of December 23 and assembled outside the camp in Petchabun with additional special troops and transport vehicles,” said Smith. http://www.media-newswire.com/release_1108513.html
"Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit, Defense Prawit Wongsuwon, Minister of Interior ( MOI ) Chavarat Charnvirakuland and Army Chief Anupong Paochinda have relentlessly deployed additional Royal Thai Third Army and special MOI troops, with more truck and buses, to prepare for the mass forced repatriation of some 4,000-5,000 Lao Hmong political refugees and asylum seekers at Huay Nam Khao back to Laos over the holiday season," Smith concluded. http://www.media-newswire.com/release_1106722.html http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0912/S00655.htm
The following is the text of the Christmas Eve letter by Human Rights Watch to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit:
______________________________________________________________ Human Rights Watch New York, NY www.hrw.org
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ December 24, 2009 Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
Via email and facsimile
Re: Prevent Deportation of Lao Hmong Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Dear Prime Minister,
We write to urge you to prevent the imminent deportation of Lao Hmong asylum seekers from Huay Nam Khao camp in Petchabun province.
Comments made by the commander of the Third Army Region, Maj. Gen. Thanongsak Abhirakyothin, on December 9, and by the defense ministry spokesman, Col. Thanathip Sawangsaeng, on December 23, indicate that all of the approximately 4,000 Lao Hmong asylum seekers currently detained in the Thai Army-administered Huay Nam Khao detention camp will be deported by the end of this year.
Contrary to your remarks to the media on December 23 that Thailand will “take law and humanitarian principles into consideration,” should this deportation go forward, Thai authorities will be committing serious violations of international human rights and refugee law.
Thailand has long maintained that the Lao Hmong asylum seekers in Huay Nam Khao camp are illegal migrants who may be deported back to Laos. But under customary international law the Thai government has an obligation not to forcibly return persons to places where their life or freedom is at risk ( nonrefoulement ).
Human Rights Watch is concerned that international standards have not been met regarding screening measures to determine whether the individuals in Huay Nam Khao have legitimate protection concerns should they be returned to Laos.
A screening mechanism at Huay Nam Khao camp has been implemented by the Thai army, rather than by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But the military’s screening lacks transparency as Thai authorities have refused to clarify the criteria and methods used. For the past two years, the Thai government has refused to grant the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the camp or permitted it to undertake any refugee status determination processes with the Lao Hmong held at Huay Nam Khao. As a result of these serious flaws, many Lao Hmong who should have been recognized as refugees under international law are at risk of being unlawfully forced back to Laos.
The Lao government continues to carry out military operations against many Lao Hmong communities that it accuses of anti-government activity and insurgency. The Lao Hmong population has been subject to persecution by Lao authorities, including arbitrary arrests and detention, and the suppression of religious freedom.
Human Rights Watch seriously questions the claims made by yourself and other Thai officials that the deportation of Lao Hmong from Huay Nam Khao camp will be implemented on a “voluntary” basis. Recent media reports indicate that the Thai army has significantly stepped up its troop presence around the camp, conducted an intensive search of the camp on December 23 to remove all sharp objects, and seized camp residents’ mobile phones. These actions by the Thai army raise further doubts that the return of the Lao Hmong at Huay Nam Khao will be voluntary.
International standards for voluntary repatriation include counseling for those contemplating return and preparation of a voluntary return document ( which includes a photograph of the person, their statement requesting return to their country, and a signature ). In addition, the person has the right to change their mind at any point during the process. Independent third-party monitoring is also important to ensure international confidence in the process.
Regrettably, these elements are entirely missing in the planned deportation of Lao Hmong from Huay Nam Khao camp. During 2009, heavily armed Thai soldiers have been deployed to round up deportees. On a number of occasions during the year, Thai soldiers prevented Lao Hmong asylum seekers from accessing food and medical services provided by humanitarian nongovernmental organizations, evidently seeking to physically and mentally break their resistance to their deportation. Such coercive, intimidating, and brutal measures are clearly the opposite of the concept of “voluntary repatriation.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today also raised serious concerns about the pending deportation in a statement by the high commissioner, Antonio Guterres, who said that a decision by Thai authorities to proceed without clearly ensuring such returns are truly voluntary “would not only endanger the protection of the refugees but set a very grave international example.”
This story was released on 2009-12-26. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.