Close to 400 Lao Hmong repatriated from Thailand

Briefing Notes, 11 July 2008

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.

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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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