Missing Lao Hmong Girls Back in Thailand, Lao Official Says

A group of ethnic Hmong girls from Laos, forcibly repatriated from Thailand in 2005, has resurfaced in Thailand, deepening a mystery that raised international alarm over their treatment in both countries.
2007-06-30
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Hmong200.jpgBANGKOK—A group of ethnic Hmong girls from Laos, forcibly repatriated from Thailand in 2005, has resurfaced in Thailand, deepening a mystery that raised international alarm over their treatment in both countries.

“A group of bad elements lured them into going back to Thailand. I don’t know how it happened,” Gen. Bouasiang Champaphanh, the Lao chairman of the Subcommittee on Lao-Thai Border Cooperation, said in an interview.

“Thai authorities deny having any knowledge” of what happened, he said. “Of the 21 released to relatives [in Laos], eight are back in Thailand, [while] 13 remain in Laos with relatives.”

He called for all Lao Hmong in Thailand to be returned to Laos “once and for all.”

A group of bad elements lured them into going back to Thailand. I don’t know how it happened.

In December 2005, Thai authorities forcibly deported a group of 28 Lao Hmong—21 girls aged 11-17, six boys, and one adult, according to Lao sources—after arresting them when they left a controlled area designated for Lao Hmong a few days earlier.

The children were separated from their parents, who had brought them to seek asylum in Thailand’s northern province of Phetchabun. Lao officials repeatedly denied any knowledge of the children’s whereabouts.

The children’s effective disappearance sparked an international outcry.

Girls said to have been 'found'

In March this year, Lao officials reported that the missing children had been "found" in Laos and released soon after to relatives there. Lao authorities said the children had asked to remain in Laos and wanted their parents to join them.

No further information was available about the girls in Thailand or in Laos, and the whereabouts of the boys and the adult in the group remains unclear.

During 2006, the U.S. State Department said in its annual survey of human rights around the world, the Lao government “continued to deny that it had detained 26 Hmong children, but many sources indicated the children had been held in various government detention facilities since December 2005.”

“The Thai government later confirmed that it had unofficially deported the group of 27 persons, 26 of whom were children, to [Bolikhamsai province in] Laos in early December 2005. Lao authorities initially refused to acknowledge the presence of the group but then privately indicated that they were holding them; however, later they denied that they ever held the group or knew of its whereabouts. At year's end the case remained unresolved.”

The Thai National Security Council considers the Hmong illegal migrants who must go home, after a U.N. program to repatriate Lao Hmong ended in the 1990s.

Thai authorities suspect them of illicit drug-trafficking and helping Hmong exile groups stage attacks against neighboring Laos, harming bilateral relations.

The Hmong say they will be persecuted by the communist Lao government if they are repatriated because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States.

Amnesty's outcry

Earlier this week, Amnesty International renewed its appeal for an end to forced deportation to Laos of Lao Hmong people who haven't yet had access to an asylum procedure.

"Amnesty International is particularly concerned that those returned are at risk of torture, arbitrary and indefinite detention and other serious human rights violations in Laos. This serious gap in protection must come to an end," Amnesty said.

Exactly how many Lao Hmong are in Thailand seeking asylum is unknown.

Just days ago, Thai security officials in Phetchabun relocated more than 7,000 Lao Hmong to a new residential site four kms (2.5 miles) north of where they had been living alongside Thai Hmong in a makeshift settlement in Huay Nam Khao.

Thai Hmong had reportedly complained that routine security checks aimed at Lao Hmong had made their lives difficult. The Lao Hmong are now installed in Tambon Kheg-Noi. Some 40 percent of the Lao Hmong in Thailand are children.

Many Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “secret war” against communist insurgents in Laos.

Some 10,000 Hmong were relocated to the United States, with another 5,300 expected to resettle there by September, but U.S. officials say they have ruled out more mass resettlements.

Original reporting by Oratai Singhananth for RFA's Lao service. Service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han


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