HMONG RESETTLEMENT TASK FORCE - HISTORY
HISTORY OF THE HMONG RESETTLEMENT TASK FORCE
On December 2003, the U. S. Department of State decided to allow the 15,000 plus, Hmong residents of Wat Tham Krabok (WTK - click for map) an opportunity to resettle in the United States. Following that decision, Dr. Van Hanh, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), contacted the Fresno Center for New Americans (FCNA) to request assistance in convening a community meeting with Hmong leaders in California. Dr Van Hanh's goals for the initial meeting were to determine how the community was preparing for the incoming refugees and what type of community resources or assets were available.
The meeting was held on December 29, 2003, with Dr. Van Hanh and Hmong community leaders from Yuba to Fresno, attending. The four areas discussed were health, education, employment, and housing. There were many questions and much uncertainty about the process so Dr. Van Hanh requested that the group meet again and write a draft of what preparations would be made and what resources were available for the four areas discussed.
A second meeting was held on January 30, 2004 at FCNA.. From this meeting a draft report was compiled and sent to ORR. In addition, the group recommended that a task force be formed to look further at the issues related to the Hmong coming in from WTK. Some of the issues were:
- Where will the funding come from?
- What are the processes for the Hmong residents at WTK?
- Does the HRTF need to send a delegation to WTK?
- What are the responsibilities of Community Base Organizations (CBO's), Faith Based Organizations (FBO's), service providers and governmental agencies?
- What is the impact of Secondary Migration?
- What reactions can be expected from the local community?
- What type of support will we get from our elected officials?
These are just some of the questions that needed to be answered quickly. Thus, the Hmong Resettlement Task Force was formed in order to respond effectively to the challenges associated with assisting the incoming refugees. One of the goals of the Task Force was to bring together the many CBOs and FBOs that were already serving the Hmong community to organize, pool and share their resources.
Lue N. Yang, Executive Director of FCNA, was elected Chair of the HRTF. Pheng Lo, Executive Director of Lao Family of Stockton and Doua Vu, Title III Resource Specialist, were elected Co-Chairs of the HRTF. The task force included many Hmong community leaders from the many different CBOs and FBOs, in addition to members of mainstream service providers from the County of Fresno, City of Fresno, State of California, Fresno Unified School District, and private agencies as well.
According to the U.S. Census, California has the largest Hmong population in the United States - approximately 65,000. California will receive close to one third (32%) of the Wat residents who choose to resettle in the United States and the Hmong refugees coming to California will face issues different from those Hmong refugees who choose to resettle elsewhere in the U.S.
Because of that and other issues, the HRTF decided it was necessary and appropriate to send a delegation to WTK to conduct their own needs assessments in the areas of health, education, employment, and housing. Information gleaned from this trip would be extremely helpful to the many organizations providing services to the incoming Hmong refugees.
California, specifically the Central Valley, has numerous Community Based Organizations (CBO's) operated by Hmong-Americans that can assist with the resettlement process. In addition, there are strong Hmong communities throughout the Central Valley that are preparing to support the incoming Hmong refugees.
In early March 2004, the delegation was formed and was comprised of delegates from the following entities: the general Task Force, County of Fresno, City of Fresno, Fresno Unified School District, State of California, CBO's, FBO's and community members. In total, there were 23 members, including two media personnel from Channel 47. The mission and goals of the HRTF and the WTK delegation are defined below.
To learn about, advocate for, and be a resource to the newly arriving Hmong refugees and the community, and to assist in the necessary planning and coordination of the various agencies in the receiving community.
To reduce the impact of secondary migration by informing the WTK residents of the importance of their decision in choosing a final destination for their family.
To welcome WTK residents who choose to come to California, specifically the Central Valley Region; Fresno, Merced, Stockton and Sacramento.
To assess the health and well being of Hmong living in WTK by creating four sub-committees in the key areas: Health, Education, Housing, and Employment. Each sub-committee developed specific objectives to assist the HRTF in meeting it's stated goals.
History of Wat Tham Krabok, Thailand
The Hmong history at Wat Tham Krabok cannot be discussed without a short introduction to the Hmong history in Southeast Asia. The history of the Hmong dates back 5000 years when the Hmong were in China. From there, the community migrated to countries in Southeast Asia; Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The Hmong community moved into the mountainous regions of those countries where they farmed and raised animals. Traditionally, they have been a self-sufficient, agrarian society, also skilled in handicrafts such as embroidery, silverwork, carpentry, and basket weaving.
The Hmong are an ethnic group who highly value freedom and independence and try to live peacefully wherever they are. Some of the major values held by the Hmong include:
- Respecting our elders and others
- Fulfilling one's proper role in society
- Ensuring the family's welfare and reputation
- Working hard
- Avoiding conflicts with others
- Knowing Hmong customs and appropriate behaviors
HMONG CHILDREN AT WAT THAM KRABOK
In order to retain their history, the community has had to rely on oral stories passed down from one generation to the next, because the Hmong written language was not really developed until the French missionaries introduced it during the French Indo-China War in the 1940's. Even today, the Hmong language continues to change and adapt to its new environment.
The Hmong's best known connection to the United States is their contribution to the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1975 when the CIA recruited the Hmong to fight for the United States.
At the time, the Hmong and the Royal Lao Government were allies and had a close relationship with the United States. The Hmong served as Special Guerilla Units and were involved with:
- Rescuing Americans who were shot down over Laos. (For every downed American airman rescued, it was estimated that 10 or more Hmong soldiers lost their lives).
- Gathering enemy intelligence
- Guarding intelligence stations
- Defending against the enemy
At the height of the Vietnam conflict there were as many as 40,000 Hmong employed by the CIA who fought in the 'Secret War'. The Hmong were excellent fighters and knew the terrain well. They were extremely loyal once they gave their word.
Because of these and other attributes, the Hmong were highly prized and counted on by the CIA during the Vietnam War. As many as 35,000 Hmong lost their lives and about another 10,000 are still missing in action. During this conflict, the United States promised the Hmong that they would never abandon them and would protect the Hmong community who fought so bravely beside their American brothers.
In 1973, the Paris Peace Accord was signed, and the United States had to pull out of Southeast Asia, leaving the loyal Hmongs to the unforgiving North Vietnamese Communist and Pathet Lao Government.
Although Hmong represented only 10% of the total population of Laos, they accounted for 30% of all displaced population in Laos during the earl 1970's. After the war, many fled and ended up in refugee camps in Thailand. These camps included Nang Phong, Nong Khai, Chiang Kham, Nam Yao, Ban Vinai, Phanat Nikhom, and Napho Camp. Many of the first refugees from these camps relocated to the United States, Canada, Germany, France, and other countries. Approximately 35 countries accepted Hmong refugees during that first wave of resettlement.
When the Thai Government began closing the camps in the mid 1990s, (an approved, sanctioned repatriation supervised by UNHCR) the Hmong in the refugee camps were forced out. Fear of repatriation forced some to seek refuge elsewhere in Thailand. Many Hmongs found refuge at Wat Tham Krabok (WTK), located about 90 miles north of Bangkok, Thailand.
SCENE FROM WAT THAM KRABOK
The Wat was originally a Buddhist monastery whose mission was the rehabilitation of persons with drug addictions. The abbot at the Wat sheltered several families, initially, and this eventually grew to over 15,000 plus, Hmong. At one point, there were approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Hmong living at the Wat. This number was reduced to its current level when the Thai military took over the Wat and began the registration process.
Because the Wat was not recognized as a refugee camp by the National Governing Organization (NGO), the Wat did not receive many of the basic necessities that a refugee camp should have received, such as a medical facility for the residents. In addition, there was limited supervision from international organizations to oversee the living conditions at the camp. The Hmong residents at the Wat, considered "illegal aliens", have been living in horrid conditions at the camp for over a decade. The Hmong refugees are not allowed full or even partial participation in the Thai community and they have been surviving on what their U.S. families can send them, by working as farm laborers on Thai farms or performing any odd jobs that might be available.
In December 2003, the State Department decided to give this group the opportunity to reunite with their families in the United States.
Some of the factors that may have contributed to the State Department's decision include: political change between the Laotian and Thai government; political advocacy from Hmong Americans in the United States; increased attention from international organizations and the request of the Thai Government to the United States to resettle the Hmong at the Wat.
No matter what factors may have contributed, the decision was made. Wat Tham Krabok is on the map and this community, probably the last great wave of Hmong refugees is coming to the United States. The camp at Wat Tham Krabok will be closed down after this resettlement process and the Thai government will have removed a "political inconvenience" from Thailand.
The urgent questions remain; when will they come and what can we do to prepare for the newly arriving Hmong refugees? Major challenges await:
- For the U. S. government and the local communities - to assist in every possible way with the family reunification/resettlement process.
- For the receiving communities - to apply their resources to the transition process of these new Hmong refugees.
- For all the Hmong Americans who have been in the United States for close to 30 years - to share their expertise to help these family members become self-sufficient, contributing members of their new community.
HMONG RESETTLEMENT TASK FORCE
4879 EAST KINGS CANYON ROAD
FRESNO, CALIFORNIA 93727