The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has written to the Thai Government expressing concern over the repatriation of 837 Lao Hmong from Thailand last Sunday, saying it has doubts as to the voluntary nature of the return.
The agency says the operation came after a mass protest by thousands of Lao Hmong who broke out of a camp in Phetchabun Province run by the Thai Army.
UNHCR said the lack of transparency and the absence of any third party to monitor the return operation made it impossible to verify the voluntary nature of the repatriation.
A group of eight leaders and their families appear to have been deported against their will, according to the agency, which would be a breach of the principle that no refugee or asylum-seeker should be forced to return to a country where they could face persecution.
The repatriation of the remaining 819 who were sent back to Laos on Sunday evening appears to have taken place in conditions that raise doubts about the meaningful exercise of voluntary choice, and without any prior adjudication of asylum claims, UNHCR said.
The agency added that it had never had access to a group of about 8,000 Lao Hmong in Ban Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun Province, and had long urged that a proper screening be done to identify which of the group are in need of international protection.
UNHCR has offered to help the Thai and Lao Governments in managing the situation, restoring confidence and guaranteeing the appropriate transparency in the search for humanitarian solutions for the Lao Hmong.