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Cablegate: Lao Hmong in Thailand: Material Support Waiver

VZCZCXRO2714
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #5595 3030949
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 300949Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0404
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 5224
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1884

UNCLAS BANGKOK 005595

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR PRM/ENA; PRM/A; EAP/MLTS; EAP/MTS
GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM TH LA
SUBJECT: LAO HMONG IN THAILAND: MATERIAL SUPPORT WAIVER
DEMARCHE AND UPDATE

REF: STATE 146812

1. (SBU) On October 26, RefCoord delivered the demarche on
the Lao Hmong material support waiver to Ittiporn
Boonpracong, Deputy Director, International Organizations
Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ittiporn was
accompanied by Phantipha Iamsudha, Acting Director, MFA
Social Division, and a note taker. Ittiporn expressed
gratitude for earlier post meetings in which the material
support waiver's background and progress was detailed "so we
were not caught off guard." Still, Ittiporn expressed
concern that the domestic US focus of the waiver, and its
cut-off date, would not be understood by Lao Hmong in Laos,
or deliberately misrepresented by Lao Hmong advocacy groups
and "alien smugglers." The feared result: an additional pull
factor of people entering Thailand with the expectation of
U.S. resettlement. RefCoord provided copies of the
Department's press release which clearly noted that no new US
resettlement program for Hmong was anticipated. Phantipha
noted she had discussed the pull factor fear with PRM A/S
Ellen Sauerbrey at the recent UNHCR Executive Committee
meeting in Geneva, and was pleased Thailand's concerns were
addressed by the press release. Ittiporn did request,
however, that the press release not be posted on post's
website: "a low profile is better." (Note: we have no plans
to do so.)

2.(SBU) Ittiporn described Lao government interlocutors as
"still very difficult" on the fate of 7,500 Lao Hmong in an
army-run camp in Petchabun province, and 152 UNHCR-recognized
refugees in the immigration detention center in Nong Khai.
"We do not yet see any change in their position" that the two
groups be returned to Laos, and requested the US attempt to
influence the Vientiane government. According to Ittiporn,
the RTG had initially won Lao acceptance of the idea of
international NGO Doctors Without Borders accompanying Lao
Hmong returnees to Laos for on site monitoring. The Lao side
abruptly changed its mind, however, and continues to reject
third party involvement in returns. Phantipha attributed the
stubbornness to "loss of face" suffered by the Lao side in
the prolonged standoff with the international community. As a
solution, Phantipha suggested the return of the Lao Hmong to
Laos, and then an in-country resettlement to third countries.
RefCoord noted that this would require a Lao
government-sanctioned UNHCR role to make referrals to the US
Refugee Admissions Program, and that UNHCR is currently is
prohibited from refugee status determinations in Laos. The
RTG interviews of the Petchabun group, described by the MFA
as designed to identify those with a genuine fear of return,
have not yet begun. Budgetary shortfalls have slowed
progress. The MFA believes the vetting will begin sometime
in November, however.

3. (SBU) RefCoord asked for the MFA's views on delays in
implementing the PRM-funded (and IOM-constructed) temporary
shelter outside the Nong Khai IDC, designed to provide the
detainees some relief from the crowded and unhealthy cells.
Both Ittiporn and Phantipha attended a recent meeting between
the RTG Immigration Bureau and IOM, in which the design plans
(previously approved by the National Security Council) were
rejected by the Deputy Immigration Commissioner. The MFA
downplayed the Immigration-requested modifications (which
include a roof over the IDC's courtyard), noting that they
were intended to decrease the chance of detainees' escape. In
Phantipha's view, the Lao Hmong group will remain in IDC
detention "a long time" and the US had a "duty" to approve
the modifications in light of the poor conditions in the IDC.
RefCoord replied that the health and welfare of the IDC Nong
Khai detainees was solely the responsibility of the RTG, and
that the project would not go forward if the temporary
shelter was designed to confine.
4.(SBU) Comment. We will work with the architect of the Nong
Khai temporary shelter to ensure that it in no way confines
the 152 Lao Hmong (including 90 children) stuck there since
January. In a heartening development, the draconian RTG
Immigration Commissioner, responsible for a 24/7 lock-down of
the group from June until early September, was abruptly
transferred from his post on October 26. The development will
hopefully lead to a more flexible approach by the Immigration
Department to the badly needed project.
BOYCE

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