Hmong Voice Relief, Hope on Arriving in U.S.


2004.06.24
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WASHINGTON — ; Several new Hmong asylum-seekers who reached the United States this week say they want other Lao Hmong awaiting resettlement to know they are safe. In interviews with RFA's Lao service, they urged others not to be afraid.

The four families totaling 11 ethnic Hmong refugees — ; including seven children and four adults — ; are the first of around 15,000 people awaiting resettlement following a U.S. promise three decades ago. Most of those Hmong refugees will be resettled in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

"I didn't believe all of this would come true, despite the interviews [for resettlement]," one man said. "Now that I'm really here in America, I'm overjoyed. I want to reassure those in Tham Krabok they don't have to worry — ; just come to the United States," he said, referring to the Thai temple complex housing thousands of Lao Hmong asylum-seekers.

After the June 22 arrival of the four families, the local Hmong community hosted a welcoming party including Hmong community leaders and local officials, International Refugee Assistance head Paul Vang said.

Vang said his program is overseeing the medical care, enrollment of children in schools, and adequate housing for the new arrivals.

The Women's Association of Hmong and Lao (WAHL) in Minnesota is meanwhile helping the Hmong refugees with other cultural and linguistic needs.

"While the International Refugee Assistance program will take care of the refugees' medical and housing needs, WAHL will help provide any additional help such as assistance in translating for them and with everyday activities," Lee Vang, president of WAHL told RFA.

One new arrival, Ma Thor, told RFA she misses the others she left in Tham Krabok.

"I'm very glad to be here — ; I miss the [others in Tham Krabok] and want to let them know of our safe arrival in St. Paul," Ma Thor said.

She added a message to those waiting in Tham Krabok. "Everything is real. I want to tell all of you not to be afraid and to come quickly. This country is very beautiful, and soon my sister [who lives here] will show me how developed it is. I wish to tell my mother I miss her, and pray for her to arrive soon," she said.

Ma Thor's husband, Tong Her, said their Hmong relatives and local Americans have received them with kindness and concern.

Hmong guerrillas were used by the United States to form a secret army when the conflict against communism in Southeast Asia spilled into Laos during the Vietnam War.

In December last year, Washington announced details of the resettlement program for up to 14,300 Hmong living in the community centered around the Buddhist temple in Saraburi Province, 150 kms (95 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

The resettlement program is part of a wider project that has seen more than 300,000 Laotian refugees moved since 1977 to 29 countries.

Numbers at the Wat Tham Krabok camp have mushroomed since it was set up in the early 1990s, and more than 50 percent of its occupants are children, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The presence of Hmong refugees in Thailand has long been a source of aggravation between Vientiane and Bangkok.

The influx will add to the largest urban concentration of Hmong in the United States, who are based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

State estimates put Minnesota's Hmong population at 60,000, an increase of 32 percent since the 2000 census. Two more Hmong families are due to arrive Thursday, with more scheduled to arrive next week.

Related RFA Stories:

Thailand Cracks Down on Hmong Migrants 2004-08-25

Hmong Refugees Arrive in U.S. After 30-Year Wait 2004-06-23

U.S. May Take Thousands of Lao Hmong Refugees 2003-12-19

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