UNHCR concerned about deportation of Lao Hmong from Thailand

News Stories, 26 January 2007

© UNHCR/J.Pagonis
A camp which previously housed Lao Hmong in Thailand. UNHCR is concerned about deportations of Lao Hmong who have not been screened properly.

GENEVA, January 26 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Friday it was concerned to learn about Thailand's deportation to the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) earlier in the day of 16 Lao Hmong who had not been screened to see if they needed international protection.

The 16 had been in detention in the north-east Thailand town of Nong Khai since November 7 last year.

"Any country obviously has the right to deport illegal migrants. However, this should be done within a framework which ensures that any individuals among them who may have protection concerns are screened in line with international standards," said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.

"We have consistently advocated with Thailand to put in place such a system and are ready to help the Thai authorities in any appropriate way to support them in managing this situation," Feller added.

Today's deportation has heightened UNHCR's concern over the fate of 153 Lao Hmong detained in Nong Khai but recognised as refugees. The agency is still hoping for a favourable solution to their situation as resettlement arrangements with third countries are currently being worked out.

There are an estimated 7,000 Hmong in Phetchabun province. UNHCR does not have access to this mixed group, which has been in Thailand since about July 2005.

"We cannot keep silent where we witness persons, among whom may be asylum seekers, being forcibly returned without having their cases formally assessed. This is not in line with international standards," Feller added.

Friday's events highlight again the precarious situation of the Lao Hmong living in makeshift camps near Huay Nam Khao village in Phetchabun province near the Lao border. In December, the Thai and Laotian authorities reached a bilateral agreement to return them to Laos; more recently, the Thai government announced plans to have the army set up a temporary holding camp for them.