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UN agency concerned as Thailand deports Lao Hmong to Laos, reiterates offer to help

UN agency concerned as Thailand deports Lao Hmong to Laos, reiterates offer to help

The United Nations refugee agency has expressed concern over Thailand’s decision to deport 16 Lao Hmong to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic without screening them to see if they needed international protection, and has repeated its offer to help Thai authorities put in place a screening system.

The 16, who were deported last Friday, had been in detention in the north-east Thai town of Nong Khai since 7 November last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a press release, adding the deportation has “heightened” the agency’s concern over the fate of a further 153 Lao Hmong also detained in Nong Khai.

“Any country obviously has the right to deport illegal migrants. However, this should be done within a framework which ensures that any individuals among them who may have protection concerns are screened in line with international standards,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.

“We have consistently advocated with Thailand to put in place such a system and are ready to help the Thai authorities in any appropriate way to support them in managing this situation.”

UNHCR said it was still hoping for a favourable solution to the fate of the other 153 Lao Hmong detained in Nong Khai. These have been recognized as refugees and UNHCR is currently working out resettlement arrangements with third countries.

There are an estimated 7,000 Hmong in Phetchabun province. UNHCR does not have access to this mixed group, which has been in Thailand since about July 2005.

“We cannot keep silent where we witness persons, among whom may be asylum seekers, being forcibly returned without having their cases formally assessed. This is not in line with international standards,” said Ms. Feller.

Friday’s events highlight again the precarious situation of the Lao Hmong living in makeshift camps near Huay Nam Khao village in Phetchabun province near the Lao border. In December, the Thai and Laotian authorities reached a bilateral agreement to return them to Laos; more recently, the Thai government announced plans to have the army set up a temporary holding camp for them.