The Last refugees
Why these men, women and children are being deported back to Laos now is beyond me. Except it is consistent with US behavior towards our past Southeast Asian allies. We abandoned the region to the terror of the Khemer Rogue and others. The US accepted some refugees, but many others died and we've done our best to forget our part in this. Why can't this country just accept these last 150 people? I'd think we have enough blood on our hands from perhaps the ugliest chapter in US history.
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Thailand has halted the involuntary repatriation of more than 150 ethnic Hmong refugees to Laos after receiving assurances from the U.S. and elsewhere that they can be resettled in third countries, the Foreign Ministry said.
The decision came after some refugees were removed from their cells at the immigration detention center in the northern town of Nong Khai and put on buses for the short journey to the nearby border with Laos.
Although Thai authorities were able to gather women and children among the refugees, male Hmong strongly resisted efforts to be taken from their cells, and the situation had turned into a standoff after they tussled with Thai police.
"Since Thailand has received reassurances from the U.S, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands regarding the resettlement of the Hmong refugees, we have halted their planned deportation so that the aforementioned third countries can take them in for resettlement," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The suspension of the move came after the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern about the move and sent a representative to the scene.
The Fact-Finding Commission, a U.S.-based advocacy group for Hmong rights, cited witnesses as describing strong resistance by male refugees to be taken from the immigration detention center in the northeastern town of Nong Khai.
The group, whose information in the past has proven reliable, said the refugees -- who number 153, or more according to some counts -- were informed Tuesday morning they would be sent back to Laos, after which women and children were dragged from their cells and put on trucks.
It said male refugees resisted more vigorously, and Thai authorities used what appeared to be tear gas to dislodge them as they struggled to keep their cell doors closed, leaving the situation in a standoff. The account could not be independently confirmed.
However, Giuseppe de Vincentis, deputy regional representative for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, confirmed that some women and children had been loaded on buses, while Hmong men refused to be moved.
He said his agency on Tuesday reiterated its concern that the Hmongs' safety was not assured should they be returned to Laos, and said the UNHCR has been actively working to resettle them in Western countries such as Australia, the United States, the Netherlands and Canada.
UNHCR had issued a statement Monday that expressed "concern" over Thailand's decision to deport the Hmong -- whom it said had been recognized as legitimate refugees -- and said it was hoping for a "favorable solution."
The United States has taken a similar position.
U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph Boyce said last week the U.S. Embassy had expressed its "deepest concern" to Thai officials about the deportation plans.
"We understand the Thai government's concerns about Thailand becoming a magnet for refugees from neighboring countries," Boyce said in a question-and-answer session on the Internet. "But we will continue to oppose the deportation of the Hmong to Laos and to urge the Thai government to allow them to be resettled in another country where they will be safe."
Hmong refugees in Thailand claim they will be persecuted by the communist government of Laos if they return because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States. Many Hmong fought under CIA advisers during the so-called "secret war" against communists in Laos.
More than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, are known to have fled to Thailand after the communists took over their country in 1975. Most were either repatriated to Laos or resettled in third countries, particularly the United States.
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