UNHCR regrets deportation of 16 Lao Hmong from Thailand

26 January 2007

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency learned with concern about Thailand's deportation to the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) on Friday of 16 Lao Hmong who had not been screened to see if they needed international protection.

The 16 had been in detention in Nong Khai since 7 November, 2006.

"Any country obviously has the right to deport illegal migrants. However, this should be done within a framework which ensures that any individuals among them who may have protection concerns are screened in line with international standards," said UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller.

"We have consistently advocated with Thailand to put in place such a system and are ready to help the Thai authorities in any appropriate way to support them in managing this situation," Feller said.

Today's deportation has heightened UNHCR's concern over the fate of 153 recognised Lao Hmong refugees in detention in Nong Khai. UNHCR is still hoping for a favourable solution to their situation as resettlement arrangements with third countries are currently being worked out.

There are an estimated 7,000 Hmong in Phetchabun province. UNHCR does not have access to this mixed group, which has been in Thailand since about July 2005.

"We cannot keep silent where we witness persons, among whom may be asylum seekers, being forcibly returned without having their cases formally assessed. This is not in line with international standards," Feller added.

Friday's events highlight again the precarious situation of the Lao Hmong living in makeshift camps near Huay Nam Khao village in Phetchabun province near the Lao border. In December, the Thai and Laotian authorities reached a bilateral agreement to return them to Laos; more recently, the Thai government announced plans to have the army set up a temporary holding camp for them.