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Hmong Refugees in Thailand Evicted
By RUNGRAWEE C. PINYORAT, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

(07-05) 11:07 PDT HUAY NAM KHAO, Thailand (AP) --

Soaked by rain, thousands of poor ethnic Hmong refugees from Laos were living without shelter in northern Thailand on Tuesday, forced from their homes under a Thai campaign to pressure them to return to their native land.

Landlords in this village said the government set a Monday deadline for them to evict the some 6,500 refugees from their bamboo shelters, threatening them with prison or fines up to $1,200 for sheltering the Hmong, considered by Thailand to be illegal immigrants.

Thai officials also instructed vendors not to sell food to the refugees, including children, camped out since late Monday by the roadside in Huay Nam Khao, village leaders said.

"They have no place to stay, no place to cook, how can they stand the heat and rain?" asked Sawai Leeprecha, a Thai-Hmong village leader.

Some of the Hmong demonstrated Tuesday outside a government office near the village, located in Phetchabun province about 185 miles north of the Thai capital, Bangkok. But most clustered in groups along the road with reed mats and plastic sheeting, a few with umbrellas and others huddled under trees against the rain and sun.

"The Hmong would like to call for the United Nations to help us survive," said 43-year-old Jongli Saeloh. "I would rather die here than be sent back to Laos."

A hand-lettered sign on a fence read: "Please help, we're very hungry."

During the Vietnam War era, the Hmong in Laos sided with a pro-American government. After the communists won in Laos in 1975, many Hmong fled, fearing persecution. More than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, are known to have fled to neighboring Thailand, though most were repatriated or resettled in third countries, particularly the United States.

Although pressure on the Hmong has eased, military operations against small bands of Hmong insurgents in Laos continue and tensions persist. The Hmong hope the United Nations will treat them as political asylum seekers and help find them a home.

Monday's evictions came after Thailand's National Security Council decided last month to deport illegal Hmong immigrants, whom Thai authorities suspect of illicit drug trafficking and helping Hmong exile groups stage attacks against Laos.

But while a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said the Thai and Laotian governments are cooperating on repatriating the Hmong, a Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Thai government has not raised the issue through diplomatic channels.

"We will not take them, and it is not right for the Thai government to make the decision alone," the Laotian spokesman, Yong Chanthalangsy, said.

Thailand's official National Human Rights Commission issued a statement Tuesday calling on the government to delay deporting the Hmong.

In May, a refugee camp for ethnic Hmong in central Thailand was closed in what was hoped to be the last major movement of Hmong refugees. Some 10,000 were relocated to the United States, with another 5,300 expected to resettle there by September.

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