Some 23 ethnic Hmong children risk torture and other ill-treatment while
being held in an undisclosed location in Laos.
Makeshift tents for ethnic Hmong refugees, Phetchabun Province.
Deemed "illegal" immigrants by the Thai authorities, they were arrested in
November 2005 whilst visiting a church, and deported on 5 December. They
have been in detention since then, for no known reason; separated from their
parents and families for more than four months.
According to sources, the children – 20 of whom are girls – have endured
appalling conditions. Aged 12 to 16, they are said to be "in bad condition",
and to have suffered ill-treatment. Some of them may have been tortured.
The children were living among a community of some 6,000 Hmong refugees in
the Thai village of Ban Huay Nam Khao. Many of the refugees claim to have
sought sanctuary in Thailand after being persecuted for their connection to
the armed resistance against the Lao government.
But the Thai government defines them as illegal immigrants while the Lao
authorities do not believe them to be of Lao nationality. The community thus
clings precariously to its position, rejected by one country and
unrecognized by another.
Despite the children’s detention in Laos, reportedly in a village in
Bolikhamsay province east of the capital Vientiane, the authorities continue
to deny any responsibility. They claim they are searching for the children,
but have refused offers of humanitarian assistance from UN agencies and
international missions to help reconcile them with their families.