A leading human rights group has accused Thailand of intimidating and
forcibly deporting ethnic Hmong to neighboring Laos after they escaped from a
refugee camp last month. Ron Corben reports from VOA's Bangkok
In a statement Saturday, international rights group Human
Rights Watch said it feared for 1,300 refugees who left Huay Nam Khao camp, in
the country's northern Petchabun province, for a mass protest.
ethnic Hmong left the refugee camp on June 20 after a year in detention to
highlight their plight with a march to Bangkok, some 350 kilometers
Thai soldiers returned 800 protesters to Laos and thousands
returned to the camp, but 1,300 refugees are still missing, according to aid
agency Doctors Without Borders.
Human Rights Watch accused Thai
authorities of inciting fear and uncertainty in an effort to pressure the Hmong
to give up their refugee status in Thailand or resettle to other
Human Rights Watch and Doctors without Borders, which has
access to the camp, called for Thai authorities to halt the use of intimidation
and forced deportations.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) said it has written to the Thai Government saying it feared the Hmong
face persecution upon their return to Laos. The Thai military claims all
repatriations are voluntary.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis, called for
more transparency in the repatriation process.
"The lack of transparency
and the absence of any third party to monitor the return operation makes it
impossible to verify the voluntary nature of their repatriation," she
But the Thai Foreign Minister, Noppadom Pattama, told reporters the
Thai government stood by its procedures in the screening of the Lao Hmong
"Regarding Hmong, Laotian Hmong, we will not engage in any
forced repatriation," he said. "Regarding our screening process, to screen those
whether they are genuine refugee or economic refugee. Whatever are going to do
we will take humanitarian consideration very, very seriously."
in the camp have risen in recent months amid protests by Hmong over their status
and reported on-going threats against the refugees by Thai
In late May a fire destroyed 60 percent of the camp's
housing after a weeklong demonstration calling for the United Nations to
intervene to provide refugee protection for the Hmong.
During the Vietnam
War in the 1960s and 1970s, the Hmong fought alongside United States forces. But
after the war was over in 1975, many were forced to flee into the jungles, with
thousands crossing the border into neighboring Thailand.
travelled to the United States, Australia, France, French Guiana and Canada.
Thailand and Laos have both said the Hmong are economic migrants using Thailand
as a stepping point to seek refugee status.