BANGKOK—A senior Lao official involved in repatriating ethnic minority Hmong who have sought asylum in Thailand has said Laos “has never used force” in repatriating Hmong and rejected allegations that some have faced arbitrary detention and mistreatment upon their return.
"We have never used force in a case of illegal immigrants such as this, and I can vouch that we'll never take such actions," Tong Yeu Thor, vice chairman of the Lao Front for National Edification, said in an interview.
We have never used force in the case of illegal immigrants such as this, and I can vouch that we’ll never take such actions."
Tong Yeu Thor, Lao Front for National Edification
“Our policy has always been consistent towards all of our ethnic
groups, including the Hmong," he added. "We have no intention to betray
them or to take revenge.”
Hmong fighters served under CIA advisers during a so-called "secret war" against communists in Laos, and many say they now fear persecution from the Lao government because of their Vietnam War-era ties to the United States.
...they deport even those who would typically qualify as refugees."
Human Rights Watch
In October 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that Lao security forces have been responsible in recent decades for the arrests, torture, sexual abuse, and extrajudicial killings of Hmong "living in areas of Laos suspected to be insurgency regions."
The New York-based organization said that Lao authorities were also detaining several Hmong asylum-seekers whom Thai authorities deported earlier in the year.
While Thailand has insisted that all repatriations have been voluntary, Human Rights Watch said, "Thai authorities have prevented the international community from conducting a legitimate screening of Hmong asylum-seekers."
"They deport even those who would typically qualify as refugees," the rights group added.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has also expressed concern about the fate of the asylum-seekers, noting they have been denied access to the agency and cannot explain their reasons for fleeing.
The main reason that Hmong leave Laos is “the attraction of third countries," Tong Yeu Thor said.
"They think it would be easy to go to third countries that are developed and prosperous, where they can live comfortable lives. That’s what most of them think, young and old.”
On arrival in Thailand, he added, many Lao Hmong "fabricate" stories of persecution in hope of winning resettlement in third countries.
“In fact, there’s no more fighting in our country," he said.
"But we must admit that there are petty crimes like burglaries, and so on. These happen everywhere in the world. So if they don’t come up with good reasons, they will not be accepted by third countries.”
Thai and Lao authorities said last week they had repatriated 452 ethnic Hmong who had escaped to Thailand to seek asylum abroad, but a Hmong witness said 40 others fled to avoid returning home.
Khenethong Nouanthasing of the Lao Foreign Ministry said in an interview that all 452 had volunteered to return to Laos and would stay in a temporary housing center before returning to their native villages.
Asked what had happened to the 40 missing Hmong, Tong Yeu Thor replied, “We don’t know exactly. It has happened before that such a number of people was expected in Laos, according to the Thai original list. But when it was time to board the bus there were some problems.”
“I have witnessed something like this myself. During the boarding process some relatives did not show up. Maybe they changed their minds or were simply late, and that was enough reason for them to postpone their departure. This is not a real problem.”
Thailand and Laos have agreed to repatriate a total of about 5,000 Hmong from Huay Nam Khao village in Phetchabun province, 300 kms (190 miles) north of Bangkok.
Laos previously denied they were Laotian, describing them as Thailand's problem.Resettled group
A separate group of 158 Hmong asylum-seekers who have U.N.-certified refugee status will be allowed to leave for third countries willing to accept them, Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya said in March.
They are currently being held at an immigration detention center in Nong Khai province, northeast of Bangkok, where they have been since late 2006.
In May 2005, a major refugee camp for ethnic Hmong at Wat Tham Krabok in central Thailand was closed after about 15,000 residents were relocated to the United States.
Original reporting by Viengsay Luangkhot for RFA's Lao service. Lao service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Edited and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.