UN agency calls on Thailand to release nearly 150 Lao refugees after hunger strike
Voicing relief that 149 Hmong refugees from Laos held in a detention centre in Thailand had ended a hunger strike, the United Nations refugee agency today called on the Thai Government to release them, all recognized refugees.
“We are alarmed and deeply concerned about the steadily deteriorating detention conditions of the refugees over the last weeks," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Director Janet Lim said.
“They are being held in truly inhumane conditions – including innocent children – confined to two small cells into which daylight does not even shine and they are not allowed to leave,” she added. They also have no water source other than a tap in the cells.
The Lao Hmong began their strike on Thursday at the Nong Khai Immigration Detention Centre in a protest over the deteriorating conditions under which they have been held since early December. After a UNHCR team visited and counseled them on Sunday evening, they began taking food again.
Among the 149 recognized refugees are 90 children, including some babies born in the centre which is run by the Thai Immigration Ministry.
“There is absolutely no reason for these 149 people to be detained, especially as other countries have come forward and offered them resettlement places if they are only allowed to leave Thailand,” Ms. Lim said. “They have committed no crime; on the contrary, they have been recognized as refugees in need of international protection. It is particularly disturbing to us that young children and babies are being subjected to these deplorable conditions.”
The group was rounded up for deportation in Bangkok in November. After UNHCR intervened, the deportation was called off and the group was transferred to the Nong Khai detention centre on the border with Laos. Thai authorities attempted to deport them in January 2007, but backed down when the refugees put up fierce resistance.
Since then, UNHCR has been urging the authorities to release them. "We appreciate the assurances given by the Thai Government that these 149 will not be deported, but now we need to move forward to end their detention, particularly as there is a solution at hand,” Ms. Lim said.
UNHCR is also concerned about conditions faced by other asylum seekers and refugees in detention in Thailand, particularly as children are also in custody.
The agency continues to urge the Thai Government to conclude its discussions on a screening mechanism which meets international standards that would allow the proper identification of different needs and claims concerning all asylum seekers on its territory.