Thailand: UNHCR calls for release of detained Hmong refugees

Briefing Notes, 15 January 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 January 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is calling for the release of 149 Lao Hmong refugees held in Thailand's Nong Khai Immigration Detention Centre since December, 2006. The group including many children has now spent 400 nights in detention, yet have not committed any crime. The refugees were rounded up for deportation in Bangkok on 17 November 2006. They were transferred on 8 December 2006 to the Nong Khai detention centre on the border with Laos, where they have been held since. UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, says there is no basis for the detention of these 149 people, who have been recognized as in need of international protection. They should be allowed to take up offers already made to leave Thailand for Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States.

UNHCR recognizes that efforts have been made by Thailand to improve somewhat the conditions in the detention centre. The people are now allowed out of their two cells for three hours a day. However, these measures do not go far enough and overall conditions still fall well short of international standards. No one should be detained for an indefinite period.

We are particularly concerned that 90 children, including five born in detention, are being held in these sub-standard conditions. They should not be locked up and should be getting a proper education.

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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

Refugees from Myanmar: Ethnic Karens Seek Shelter

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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