UNHCR concerned about deportation of 53 Lao Hmong from Thailand
BANGKOK, Thailand, November 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Thursday it was seriously concerned about Thailand's deportation to Laos of 53 ethnic Hmong, including a newborn baby.
Describing the deportation as "most regrettable," a UNHCR spokesperson said the group was handed over to Lao authorities at a crossing in north-east Thailand's Nong Khai district.
"Every government has the right to deport irregular migrants, but UNHCR is seriously concerned that there may have been within this group genuine refugees who were in need of international protection and could face persecution in Laos," said Giuseppe de Vincentis, UNHCR's acting representative in Thailand.
"We have no access to these people once they are returned to Laos, and there have been no guarantees that they will be properly treated on their return to Laos," he added.
The forced return of the 53 Hmong is tantamount to refoulement, contrary to international humanitarian law. The principle of "non-refoulement" says that no refugee or asylum seeker whose case has not yet been properly assessed can be forcibly returned to a country where their life or liberty could be in danger.
UNHCR has repeatedly asked the Thai government for access to the Lao Hmong in detention in Thailand to determine whether any were in need of international protection.
"The UN refugee agency has made several representations to the Royal Thai Government not to carry out deportations of Lao Hmong and has renewed its offer to assist the Thai government to find viable solutions for the roughly 6,000 Hmong living in makeshift camps near Huay Nam Khao village in [Thailand's] Petchabun province," de Vincentis said.
UNHCR does not have access to this mixed group, which has been in Thailand for almost a year and a half.
De Vincentis also recalled that Thailand deported 26 Hmong children to Laos in December last year, and there has been no trace of them since, despite efforts by UNHCR and the Thai government to determine their fate.
By Kitty McKinsey in Bangkok, Thailand