Reports of ongoing forcible return of a large number of ethnic Lao Hmong, despite a chorus of international protests, including from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have sparked the concern of independent United Nations human rights experts.
Earlier this week, some 4,000 ethnic Hmong Laotians were deported from Thailand, although many had been there for over 30 years and some were recognized as being in need of international protection.
“We urge the Government of Thailand to stop immediately all expulsions, to grant access to relevant international organizations, notably UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees], and to take all necessary measures to ensure that the human rights of the Hmong are scrupulously respected,” Manfred Nowak and Jorge A. Bustamante, the Special Rapporteurs on torture and the human rights of migrants, respectively, said in a joint statement issued today.
Mr. Nowak underscored that “the fact that no independent and reliable pre-screening mechanism is in place to assess whether these individuals would be at risk of torture violates international human rights norms.”
Under the principle of non-refoulement, “no State should expel, return or extradite a person to another State where he or she would be in danger of being tortured,” he added.
For his part, Mr. Bustamante expressed concern that among the Hmong sent back to Laos were those in need of international protection, including recognized refugees and asylum-seekers whose applications had yet to be assessed.
“There is an urgent need to adopt a holistic approach to the management of migration that takes into account the causes and consequences of the migration flows implicating the Hmong and the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all those involved,” he emphasized.
Earlier this week, the Secretary-General voiced his concern that the deportations had taken place despite appeals from UNHCR and the availability of third country resettlement solutions for those recognized as refugees.
“He urges the Governments of Thailand and the Lao People's Democratic Republic to take all necessary steps to respect the rights of those concerned and to facilitate humane solutions,” he said in a statement issued by his spokesman.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called on the Thai Government to halt the forced returns on Monday, but to no avail.
UNHCR has no formal presence in Laos. Many Hmong living in the highlands of Laos took part in the conflict that engulfed the country in the 1960s and 1970s. When the Pathet Lao came to power in 1975, tens of thousands fled to Thailand in search of asylum, while others were resettled in Western countries such as the United States.