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Nearly 400 more Hmong return to Laos from Thailand, reports UN agency

Nearly 400 more Hmong return to Laos from Thailand, reports UN agency

Myanmar refugee children in Mae La Camp in Thailand
Close to 400 Lao Hmong people were repatriated to Laos from a camp in northern Thailand yesterday, bringing the total number of returnees to 1,228 in the past three weeks, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

The 391 ethnic Hmong people were repatriated from Ban Huay Nam Khao camp by the Thai army in Petchabun province, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said today that it had no information that the move was not voluntary.

There are currently about 6,000 Lao Hmong still living in Ban Huay Nam Khao camp, with an additional 200 to 300 believed to be living outside the camp, some of them in hiding.

On 22 June a group of 837 were repatriated after a mass protest at the camp, raising concern about the conditions surrounding the return.

UNHCR does not have access to the camp, where Lao Hmong started arriving in mid-2005. The agency said it had repeatedly urged the Thai authorities to allow access to the camp so that appropriate solutions could be facilitated.

The refugee agency said that increased transparency would help build trust and would be in the best interests of all parties.

UNHCR has also called on the Thai authorities to meet international standards for voluntary repatriation and repeated its offer to the Governments of Laos and Thailand to help manage the situation concerning the Lao Hmong.