Thailand: UNHCR strongly protests attempted deportation of Lao Hmong refugees

Briefing Notes, 30 January 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 January 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR was extremely alarmed to hear that 153 Lao Hmong recognised refugees, including a newborn baby, were in the process of being deported from a detention centre in Thailand back to the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) today. But, we have just heard that after a tense standoff between a group of 54 male refugees who had been strongly resisting the deportation and who we understand had barricaded themselves into the detention centre at Nong Khai along with a group of about two dozen children, that the deportation seems to have been called off for today. Most of the women and children of the group who had earlier been loaded onto buses, have just been allowed to disembark and return to the detention centre. Two ambulances carrying two serious medical cases, previously parked near a bridge marking the Thai-Laos border, are returning to the hospital with their patients.

If this deportation does still go ahead, it would be the first time to our knowledge that Thailand would have refouled refugees individually recognised under UNHCR's mandate. This would be a major breach of international humanitarian law, which says that no refugee should be forcibly returned to a country where their life or liberty could be in danger. It would also be a huge disappointment to UNHCR as we had made repeated offers to the Thai government to assist them in finding alternative solutions for this group and have been working closely with third countries to find resettlement solutions.

We have serious concerns for the safety and security of those being deported to Laos. UNHCR does not have access inside Laos to people returned against their will. We are still gravely concerned about the fate of 26 Hmong children separated from their parents who were deported from Thailand to Laos in December 2005. There has been no trace of them since despite efforts by UNHCR and the Thai government to find out what has happened to them.




Angelina Jolie revisits Myanmar refugees on World Refugee Day

UNHCR's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie spent this year's World Refugee Day with Karenni refugees from Myanmar. Some have been in exile in Thailand for 30 years, making this one of the longest-running refugee situations in the world.

On her fourth visit to the refugee camps in Thailand, Jolie met Baw Meh's family, three generations of refugees who have lived in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp since 1996.

The family told Jolie they fled Myanmar's Kayah state thinking they would return home shortly. Eighteen years later, they are still here. Baw Meh, 75, lost her husband last year. He died before he could fulfill his dream of returning home. Some of their family members have been resettled to third countries. Others have chosen to stay. Baw Meh has refused to go, preferring to stay close to her village.

Like many refugees along the border, her family is watching the reform process in Myanmar closely and mulling the prospect of eventual return. "After 30 years in exile, the best solution we can give these refugees is the right and power to choose their own way forward," said Jolie. "This is our chance to get it right, to break the vicious cycle of conflict and displacement once and for all."

Angelina Jolie revisits Myanmar refugees on World Refugee Day

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Over 2,000 refugees from Myanmar have crossed the border into Thailand in recent months. Most claim to be fleeing renewed conflict and human rights abuses in Kayin state, Myanmar. The mainly ethnic Karen refugees say their houses and villages have been burned and civilians killed. Many were weak upon arrival, suffering from illnesses such as malaria, after a long, dangerous journey to the camps through heavily mined areas. The refugees have been arriving at government-run camps, mainly in the Mae Hong Son area in northern Thailand.

UNHCR is working with the Thai government and non-governmental organisations to ensure the new arrivals are admitted to the camps and provided with adequate shelter and protection. Shelter has been a major issue as the capacity in many refugee camps has been overwhelmed. In a breakthrough in mid-May, Thai authorities agreed to build proper houses for the new arrivals.

There are currently 140,000 refugees from Myanmar living in nine border camps in Thailand, many of them have been there for up to 20 years.

Refugees from Myanmar: Ethnic Karens Seek Shelter

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