Hmong refugees facing removal from Thailand
Some of the refugees loaded onto buses and driven to the Thai border with Laos, January 2007. They were then returned to a detention centre in Thailand.
© Mathias Depardon
The Thai government has been threatening to deport 153 refugees from the Hmong minority to Laos. On 30 January, immigration officials dragged women and girls crying and screaming out of their cell in the Nong Khai immigration detention centre in north-east Thailand. They used tear gas on the men and boys who barricaded themselves in the men’s cell for hours.
All 153 have been recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and will be at risk of serious human rights abuses if they are returned to Laos. The group were arrested in November 2006 and held in Bangkok, the Thai capital, before being transferred to the Nong Khai centre a month later.
Fears that the government intended to return the group to Laos prompted protests by several human rights bodies, including AI and the UNHCR. In response, the Thai authorities stated in late 2006 that, for humanitarian reasons, the 153 would not be deported. However, the attempted deportation at the beginning of this year suggests that they still may not be safe.
On 30 January, the women and girls among the 153 were loaded onto buses and driven to the Thai-Lao border. Two of the women were eight months pregnant and one had a baby only weeks old. Two men were also put onto the buses, having been taken from their hospital beds where they had been receiving care for a serious liver condition and a bullet wound to the face.
Immigration officials meanwhile called on the police to force the men and boys out of their barricaded cell. The police used tear gas and tried to saw through the bars, but were unable to gain access. Witnesses reported that police used tear gas three times, despite the fact that 20 boys were in the cell.
The deportation attempt was halted for undisclosed reasons, and the women and girls were returned to the Nong Khai centre.
On 26 January, a group of 16 Lao Hmong asylum-seekers were returned to Laos. Reportedly held in a detention facility in Paksan, central Laos, they are believed to be in danger of serious human rights violations. No international human rights organization has access to them, and there has been no further information about the group since. In December 2005, Thailand forcibly returned 27 Hmong refugees, 22 of them children separated from their parents, to Laos. They have been held incommunicado since, and have reportedly been ill-treated – possibly tortured. Their return breached international refugee law, the UN Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UNHCR has warned that it will not have access to the group of 153 if they are returned to Laos. It further stated that “there have been no guarantees that they will be properly treated on their return to Laos.”
Under international law, the Thai authorities must not return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights abuses. Thailand must respect its international obligations and not hamper efforts underway to resettle all 153 Hmong refugees in third countries.
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ISSN 1472-443X . AI Index NWS 21/002/2007
Amnesty International, International Secretariat, Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street, London, WC1X 0DW, United Kingdom