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Hmong Refugees Fear Being Sent Back to Laos
April 5, 2007
Although Hmong populations face unhealthy and near prison-like conditions at the Huai Nam Khao camp in Thailand, they are even more frightened by the prospect of being returned to Laos because they fear for their lives there. Emmanuel Drouhin, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) program manager for Thailand, provides an update.
Why are the Hmong refugees at the Huai Nam Khao camp bordering Laos a population in danger?
They are considered illegal immigrants and thus do not have the right to leave the camp. Outside, they risk expulsion to Laos where most would face prison, trial for conspiracy, and physical attack. Based on conversations with the refugees during medical consultations, we know that they are terrified that they may be sent back to Laos. We have been told that some spent years—up to 10 or 15—hiding in the jungles of Laos because the Laotian army was chasing them.
What are MSF's requests?
We are asking the political actors to assume their responsibilities. United Nations agencies, representatives of the European Union, embassies and the Thai government have made efforts in recent months, but we believe that discussions on the problem of the Hmong in Thailand must continue and be stepped up.
Thailand is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, so it does not recognize either the status of refugee or the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on matters of assistance and protection. So far, the international community has virtually abandoned the problem. If these Hmong families have sought refuge in Thailand, that is because they are in danger in their own country. We must stop pretending that they are economic refugees and using that as a pretext to avoid dealing with the situation.
The current camp will be moved soon. Why?
The current camp is overpopulated and the risk of epidemic is high. The crowding is so intense that people are forced to eat next to the latrines. Because of these health and space problems, Thai authorities decided to resettle the residents at a more appropriate site, around two kilometers from this one.