More than one year after being forcibly repatriated to Laos from Thailand, thousands of Hmong residents still face severe restrictions at home, according to a member of the group.
A majority of the 4,371 Hmong who were sent back since the end of 2009 live in a resettlement camp in Phonekham village, Borikhamxay province, with their movements restricted and their livelihood bleak, said the villager, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Lao government promised the group land concessions and other forms of resettlement assistance upon their return, but he said that only some had received land while the larger part of the group remain in the camp under tightly controlled conditions.
“We have been told to report in person to the authorities once every week. That’s what they said. They won’t let us go anywhere … we cannot go to visit relatives in villages to the south or north,” he said.
“They won’t let us go outside of a five kilometer (three mile) radius from the [camp].”
His statement suggests that the Lao government has not been following through on its pledge to the international community that the group would be given full assistance and that they would not face harassment upon their return.
Early last year, several Hmong claimed they felt unsafe in the camp and wanted to be resettled to a third country.
Thailand repatriated the Hmong in December 2009 against their wishes and despite objections from international rights groups and U.N. officials.
The Hmong had sought asylum at a refugee camp in neighboring Thailand following persecution at home because of their Vietnam War-era ties to the U.S. in the CIA’s “Secret War” against the North Vietnamese in Laos.
Meeting cut short
U.N. officials and international rights groups had expressed concern to Laos about the treatment of the resettled Hmong and demanded access to Phonekham village to investigate the conditions under which they are living.
Lao officials invited senior foreign diplomats, journalists, and U.N. representatives to a meeting in March last year with around 300 residents of the resettlement village, but the tightly controlled visit was cut short after Hmong residents openly expressed their fears to the visitors.
When the delegation was given time to question the residents who had gathered in a meeting hall, some attendees rushed up to the visitors to express their concerns directly, saying that they wanted to leave.
Afterward, the diplomats were taken in a van on a short tour of the village, instead of having the more comprehensive visit that had been originally planned.
Lao officials assured the visitors that the Hmong had received the best possible assistance and that all were safe although the government still had work to do to develop the village.
Among those returned to Laos were 158 Hmong who were designated "people of concern" by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Known as America’s “forgotten allies,” the Hmong sided with the United States during the Vietnam War and many fled Laos in 1975 when the communist Pathet Lao took power.
Tens of thousands have since been resettled in the United States.
Some Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “Secret War” against communists in Laos.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.