BANGKOK—The United Nations’ refugee agency is calling on Thailand to free 149 ethnic Hmong asylum-seekers from Laos whom it has detained at an immigration center for more than a year.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Erika Feller said the group of 149 minority Hmong should be released to third countries. “These 149 Hmong refugees are not criminals. They [have been] detained for 400 days,” she said.
“The Thai authorities have no reason to detain them any longer. International organizations recognize their status of refugees,” Feller said. “They should be let go to third countries—many countries have agreed to accept them.”
The 149 Lao Hmong have been housed at an immigration center in Nong Khai, about 500 kms (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok, since December 2006, the UNHCR has said.
The Hmong, who claim to have fled persecution in neighboring Laos, are recognized as refugees in need of protection and should be allowed to leave Thailand to resettle elsewhere, another UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, later told the Associated Press in Geneva.
They should be let go to third countries—many countries have agreed to accept them.
Australia, Canada, the United States and the Netherlands have offered to receive some of the refugees for resettlement, Redmond said, adding that the agency was particularly concerned about the fact that 90 children, including five born in detention, are being held in conditions that fall short of international standards.
“They should not be locked up and should be getting a proper education,” he told reporters. The Hmong say they fear political persecution in Laos. Many Hmong fought on the side of a pro-U.S. Laotian government in the 1960s and 1970s before the communist takeover of their country in 1975.
More than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, fled to Thailand after the takeover. Most were resettled in third countries, particularly the United States, though several thousand were voluntarily repatriated to Laos.
Thailand regards the Hmong are migrants rather than legitimate refugees and says they have violated Thai law by entering the country illegally. Thai authorities deported more than 300 of them in 2006.
The 149 Hmong in Nong Khai were on the verge of being repatriated to Laos in January last year when international pressure halted the move.
Original reporting by Oratai Singhananth for RFA's Lao service. Edited by Max Avary. Lao service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.