UNHCR asks Thailand to clarify situation of BBC guide to Laos

Briefing Notes, 3 April 2009

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 3 April 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has asked the Thai government for clarification of allegations that a Lao Hmong man, Joua Va Yang, has been mistreated in Huay Nam Khao camp in Petchabun province, northern Thailand, and is in danger of being deported to Laos. The camp is home to more than 5,000 Lao Hmong to whom UNHCR has never had access.

Joua Va who led a team of BBC journalists into the jungles of Laos to document the plight of the Hmong in 2004 is reportedly now in Khao Kho prison in Petchabun with his wife and four children. UNHCR has asked the Thai government to ensure respect for the customary principle of non-refoulement, which means that no refugee or asylum-seeker should be forced to return to a country where he or she could face persecution.

UNHCR continues to urge the Thai government to review the status of Lao Hmong in the country in a fair and transparent manner based on internationally accepted norms. It is concerned that the continued lack of transparency in the treatment of the Lao Hmong in Petchabun undermines confidence in the commitment of Thailand to ensuring that international principles are respected.

Lao Hmong began gathering in Huay Nam Khao camp in large numbers in mid-2005. Some 2,000 have been sent home since Thailand began repatriating them in February 2007. UNHCR reiterates its offer to the Thai government to help find solutions for this group, including by playing its traditional role in voluntary return.

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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.

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