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Congress, Hmong Scholar Urge Laos To Admit UNHCR

Congress, Hmong Scholar Urge Laos To Admit UNHCR

Washington, D.C., New York, NY, Bangkok, Thailand, February 2, 2010
Center for Public Policy Analysis

U.S. Congressman Howard Berman (CA - Dem.), Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and eleven senior Members of the House of Representatives, have sent a high-level letter to the Lao government in Vientiane asking it to grant the United Nations access to thousands of ethnic Lao Hmong refugees recently forced back to Laos from Thailand. Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, author of the award winning book "Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, The Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos" (Indiana University Press), and a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, has issued a statement about the Congressional letter and the crisis facing Lao Hmong refugees in Southeast Asia.

The Washington D.C.-based Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and international human rights, refugee and humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also issued appeals today to the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR). They are urging the LPDR regime in Laos to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to thousands of Lao Hmong refugees. This urgent refugee, human rights and humanitarian crisis has alarmed the international community and rights advocates.

“We are writing to express our concern regarding the nearly 4,700 Lao Hmong refugees who have been repatriated by the Royal Thai Government to Laos in recent days,” Chairman Berman and the Members of Congress wrote. “We urgently ask the government of Laos to treat all of the returnees humanely, guarantee access to the international community for independent monitoring, and allow those who are eligible for resettlement to be resettled without delay.”

“According to the Royal Thai Army, between 500 and 800 Lao Hmong in Huay Nam Khao camp alone were in danger of being persecuted upon return to Laos… We also ask that you grant the United Nations and other agencies access for independent monitoring…,” the Congressional letter said

Dr. Hamilton-Merritt issued the following statement regarding the letter by Chairman Berman and his Congressional colleagues:

"This Congressional letter to the Lao Government is a first step in resolving the Hmong refugee debacle in Laos. Based on past experience, the LPDR is likely to view statements from the House Foreign Relations Committee as only ‘gestures’ which can be ignored because no real actions or penalties will result,” said Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt.

”To get the attention of the LPDR, it would be wise for Congress to hold Hearings, requesting international agencies, such as Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Human rights Watch to present their well-researched warnings about the dangers of any forced repatriation of the Hmong in Thailand back to Laos without unfettered, independent, international screening of this populations to identify those who have a well-founded fear of persecution. Congressional Hearings should also examine the various actions and penalties that could be undertaken by Congress against the LPDR if it continues to ignore international human rights norms.

”This letter rightly focuses on the gross violations of international refugee law when Thailand forced back to Laos the 158 Hmong imprisoned in the Nong Khai Detention Center, who had been granted persons of concern status by UNHCR and had been granted resettlement by several Western nations. Forcing these 158 back to Laos along with the other 4,600 was an insult not only to the Hmong, but to the international human rights community and those nations that place priorities on human and civil rights."

The Congressional letter was co-signed by Representatives Dan Burton (D-IN), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Steve Kagen (D-WI), Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Ron Kind (D-WI), Bill Delahunt (D-MA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

“Chairman Berman’s letter regarding the plight of the Lao Hmong refugees, is important; Unfortunately, however, after two years, the Lao military junta continues to deny the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and human rights organizations, access to the over 8,000 Lao Hmong refugees brutally forced from Thailand to Laos from 2007-2009,” said Philip Smith, Director of the CPPA.

Smith explained further: “After over a month, the recent group of some 4,700 Lao Hmong refugees subjected to mass forced repatriation by the Thai and Lao military on December 28, 2009, have been largely isolated by the Lao army and LPDR regime; Hundreds are imprisoned in harsh conditions in various secret camps and prisons that are off-limits to the UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other organizations,” Smith explained. “Most of the refugees, including the 158 from Nong Khai, wish to be resettled abroad despite the Lao government’s denials and propaganda.”

“Beneath thin diplomatic language, Vientiane’s responses, when there is any response at all, are as likely to be perfunctory evasions as honest answers,” said The Honorable Howard Eugene Douglas, U.S. Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for Refugee Affairs (1981 – 1985). “Vientiane might wish to decide if it wants to be stuck in the rut of a pugnacious post-Vietnam attitude syndrome or behave like the society it pretends to be. The case of the Hmong just might be the catalyst for how the United States will view the Lao government’s true intentions.”


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