Thailand: UNHCR calls for end of three-year detention of Lao Hmong

Briefing Notes, 17 November 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 17 November 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today, 17 November, marks three years since a group of recognized Lao Hmong refugees were rounded up in Bangkok for deportation. The group, now totalling 158, have been in detention ever since. UNHCR calls on all parties to play their part in finding a humanitarian solution to their plight and end the detention of this group of children, women and men who are being held in two cells in an immigration detention centre in Nong Khai, Thailand.

Many of the Hmong living in the highlands of Laos took part in the war that engulfed Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. When the Pathet Lao came to power in 1975, many tens of thousands of Lao Hmong fled to Thailand seeking asylum, and large numbers were resettled in Western countries, mostly in the United States.

The situation of the Hmong today is very different from what it was in the 1970s, but the Nong Khai group are part of the legacy left by a troubled past. Originally 147 refugees, they were rounded up for deportation and transferred on 08 Dec. 2006 to the Nong Khai immigration detention centre on the Mekong River border with Laos where they have been held since. With babies born in detention, the number now stands at 158.

Four countries the U.S., Australia, Canada and the Netherlands have offered resettlement places to the refugees, and we believe they should be allowed to leave Thailand for resettlement. They have not committed any crime, and their detention serves no purpose. We believe that a solution for this group will not only respond to an urgent humanitarian need but also help turn one of the final pages in the refugee history of the Hmong in Thailand.