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Thailand: Stop the forced repatriation of Hmong asylum seekers to Laos

March 6, 2008 

Thailand should stop forcibly returning Hmong asylum seekers to neighboring Laos, where they could face arrest, torture or execution, according to human rights advocates. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the return of 11 Lao Hmong from a camp in Thailand’s Petchaburi Province on Feb. 27 violates the principle of non-refoulement, which protects people from being sent back to countries where their lives or liberty could be threatened. Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention on refugees, but HRW says under customary international law the Thai government nonetheless has an obligation of non-refoulement.

HRW says Thailand and Laos reaffirmed a commitment last September to repatriate the 8,000 Hmong living in the Petchabun camp. The previous month then-Prime Minister Gen. Surayud Chulanont said, “If we don’t deal with this problem, we will have to be home to more illegal immigrants. It is a burden in every way for us.” In February, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said the two governments had agreed to repatriate 200 Hmong to Laos every month.

Maj. Gen. Voravit Darunchoo, Thailand’s Border Affairs deputy director, says the 11 “wholeheartedly volunteered to go back to their country.”  However, Bill Frelick, HRW refugee policy director, says that is doubtful, adding, “Volunteers don’t need police dogs to coax them onto trucks.”

HRW says the Thai government has denied permission to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct refugee status determinations in Thailand, insisting that it would screen asylum seekers itself. In addition, the government usually does not allow international agencies to observe the repatriation process.

The Thai government denies nearly all requests from representatives of foreign governments, UN agencies, journalists and nongovernmental organizations to enter the Petchaburi facility where the Hmong are confined. Only Medecins Sans Frontieres is allowed in, and it currently provides all services for the Hmong living there.

HRW says another 150 Hmong refugees recognized by the UNHCR are locked up at the Immigration Detention Center in Nong Khai Province, where they face the threat of deportation to Laos despite pledges of foreign governments to resettle them elsewhere.

Faith in action:

Read the full HRW statement. Then write to Thailand’s Ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn (Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Suite 401, Washington, D.C. 20007). Appeal to the country’s proud tradition of freedom, as Thailand has never been colonized. Urge that the popular constitutional monarchy extend Thailand’s well-known compassion and hospitality to Hmong asylum seekers from Laos.

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