Press Releases, 24 December 2009
Geneva, 24 December 2009
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, appealed today to the Government of Thailand to halt its plans for the involuntary return of around 4000 Lao Hmong to the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
"In accordance with international law, Thailand has the responsibility and international obligation to ensure that any return of recognized refugees or other persons in needs of international protection to their country of origin is undertaken on a strictly voluntary basis," he said. "To proceed otherwise would not only endanger the protection of the refugees but set a very grave international example."
Thailand has said it intends to expel the Lao Hmong before the end of 2009 under a bilateral agreement with Laos. Those affected would include 158 recognized refugees held in detention in Nong Kai, and a second larger group at the Huay Nam Khao camp in Petchabun whom UNHCR has not been given access to.
Thailand has a long-standing history as a major country of asylum in the Southeast Asian region. Building on past efforts, UNHCR has urged that time be allowed to pursue solutions of voluntary return and third country resettlement in a way that is respectful of the cardinal international principle of non-refoulement, or no forced return.