Hundreds of hmong face deportation
By Jim Pollard
Published on June 23, 2008
Protest march to capital blocked by riot police;leaders said repatriated
Leaders of the dramatic protest march out of the Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Phetchabun have been forcibly returned to Laos, along with a group of Hmong wanted by Lao authorities, sources in the North said yesterday.
A further 800 refugees are being deported to Laos – some allegedly against their will, but many having accepted money from the Thai government to return to their homeland after languishing for several years while United Nations refugee officials were denied access to the camp.
Another 500 to 600 people have been locked up in provincial jails after the Army forcibly dispersed the huge protest on Saturday, while reporters were kept well away from the scene of the stand-off.
An estimated 5,000 people marched out of the strife-torn Huay Nam Khao camp early on Friday saying they were walking to Bangkok to draw international attention to their plight.
The Hmong were blocked by riot police and troops on a road about five kilometres from Khet Noi, the next village, and forced to spend a night in the open.
The Phetchabun governor arrived on Saturday to negotiate with the refugees, who have endured a series of crises in recent weeks, including a fire that burnt down half the homes in their camp. The blaze is believed to have been deliberately lit, possibly at the instigation of Hmong groups in the US, to try to draw international attention to the refugees’ plight.
The US government introduced legislation in Congress recently to try to prevent the Hmong from being forcibly returned. US officials have been monitoring developments in the camp closely and the State Department is said to be considering a “large intake” of Hmong refugees, although no decision appears to have been reached at this stage.
About 8,000 Lao Hmong have been languishing in the camp for several years claiming they have fled harassment and persecution in their communist homeland, largely because of ties to the CIA-backed force that fought the communists in the 1960s and 70s. However, the Thai and Lao governments say the Hmong in Phetchabun are simply economic migrants duped by human traffickers who led them to believe they could be resettled in the West.
Leaders of the protest march and others wanted by the Lao authorities – a total of about eight families – were reportedly trucked to Nong Khai at 3am yesterday and deported to Laos.
Leader Lee Xue, who has had run-ins with Thai authorities in recent weeks, plus a man who led a BBC reporter to meet a group of “jungle Hmong” several years ago, were believed to be among those returned.
Another 832 people were packed into buses at about 11am and driven to Nong Khai for deportation.
The Hmong have allegedly been paid Bt15,000 per family to return, but some of those bussed to the border were crying, shouting and upset because they had had second thoughts about returning, sources in the North said.
Aid workers at Huay Nam Khao said about 1,600 people, or a third of those who marched out of the camp on Friday, had failed to return.
Videos of the protest march show the refugees holding banners appealing for the United Nations to intervene and stop forced repatriation.