Thailand Forcibly Returns Hundreds of Hmong Refugees to Laos

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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MSF Calls Again for Immediate Halt of Forced Repatriations and for Access to Forced Returnees in Order to Provide Medical Assistance

Bangkok/Paris, June 25, 2008 —An estimated 800 ethnic Lao Hmong refugees were forcibly returned to Laos by the Thai government on Sunday, June 22, and the Thai authorities have stated publicly that they intend to proceed over the coming days with further repatriations to Laos from among the remaining 6,700 refugees in the Huai Nam Khao camp in Thailand’s Petchabun Province. The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling once again on the governments of Thailand and Laos to immediately stop all forced repatriations of the Hmong refugees.

Bangkok/Paris, June 25, 2008 — An estimated 800 ethnic Lao Hmong refugees were forcibly returned to Laos by the Thai government on Sunday, June 22, and the Thai authorities have stated publicly that they intend to proceed over the coming days with further repatriations to Laos from among the remaining 6,700 refugees in the Huai Nam Khao camp in Thailand’s Petchabun Province. The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling once again on the governments of Thailand and Laos to immediately stop all forced repatriations of the Hmong refugees. Both governments should facilitate the access of independent monitors to all forced returnees in Laos and those believed to be held in detention centers in Thailand so that adequate medical and humanitarian assistance can be provided to them.

MSF is also requesting that the presidency and secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and the governments of France, the United States, and China, ensure that Thailand and Laos resolve this issue in accordance with international standards for refugee protection.

The estimated 800 Hmong refugees were forced back to Laos after the military rounded up some 5,000 refugees who had engaged in a protest march against an agreement between the Thai and Lao governments to send them back to Laos. MSF, which has been assisting the Hmong refugees since 2005, estimates that as many as 1,300 people have not returned to the camp since the protest ended near the Thai village of Kek Noi. Their fate remains unknown to MSF.

"Thai authorities claim that these were voluntary repatriations," said Gilles Isard, MSF head of mission in Thailand. "It is hard to believe. Families have been torn apart. One of our Hmong staff members who joined the protest has been sent back to Laos without her children and we know of other similar cases. Many of these refugees have expressed grave fears at the prospect of being sent back to Laos," he said. "In the camp there are more than one hundred and fifty people who have suffered bullet wounds that they claim they received a few years ago from the Lao army while staying in the jungle. Hmong refugees who were receiving treatment from MSF for mental trauma caused by the violence and persecution they experienced in Laos are among the missing. These people do not trust the Lao government and demand real guarantees before going back."

According to internationally recognized fundamental rights of protection for refugees, repatriation cannot be forced or imposed on individuals fearing for their safety. Any repatriation must remain linked to guarantees for safety upon return, including the provision of appropriate assistance.

"MSF believes that the total lack of transparency surrounding the management of this crisis only exacerbates the problem," said Isard. "If the government of Thailand and Laos would accept an independent monitor, then this issue might be resolved."

MSF has provided assistance to Hmong refugees in Thailand for three years, and is prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to the returnees in Laos if access is granted to MSF medical teams.

Since July 2005, MSF has assisted the Hmong refugees in the Thai village of Huai Nam Khao in Petchabun province. MSF teams provide medical and psychological care, food, water, and relief supplies to the nearly 8,000 refugees.