Close to 400 Lao Hmong repatriated from Thailand
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 11 July 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Close to 400 Lao Hmong were repatriated to Laos from a camp in northern Thailand on Thursday. UNHCR was unable to observe the return process as it has not been granted access. We have no information to suggest the move was not voluntary.
The 391 ethnic Hmong were repatriated from Ban Huay Nam Khao camp by the Thai army in Petchabun province.
Thursday's repatriation brings to 1,228 the total number of Lao Hmong who have been repatriated from Ban Huay Nam Khao camp in the last three weeks. On 22 June, a group of 837 were repatriated after a mass protest at the camp, raising concerns about the conditions surrounding the return.
There are currently about 6,000 Lao Hmong still living in the camp. An additional 200 to 300 are believed to be living outside the camp, some of them in hiding.
UNHCR does not have access to Ban Huay Nam Khao camp, where the Lao Hmong started arriving around mid-2005. It has repeatedly urged the Thai authorities to allow access to the camp so that UNHCR can play a role in facilitating appropriate solutions. It has expressed the view that increased transparency would help build trust and is in the best interests of all parties concerned. It has also called for Thailand to meet international standards for voluntary repatriation.
UNHCR reiterates its offer to help the governments of Thailand and Laos in managing the situation of the Lao Hmong.