The international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling upon the government of Thailand to halt forced repatriation proceedings against 7,500 ethnic Hmong refugees from Laos who are currently confined to a camp controlled by the Thai military in the northern village of Huai Nam Khao in Petchabun province.
The refugees claim to have fled violence and persecution in Laos and fear for their safety if forcibly returned to the country.
MSF began providing humanitarian aid to this group of Hmong refugees in July 2005 and has been the sole international organization present since November 2005. During medical consultations and mental health assessments, MSF has found extreme fear and psychological distress among this population, which is being exacerbated by the fear of being sent back to Laos.
Many also bear the physical scars and injuries from alleged abuses in Laos. Although MSF is unable to corroborate their accounts, the stories told to our team members about abuses suffered in Laos are not inconsistent with reports by human right organizations1 and independent journalists2 who have visited the isolated areas of Laos (Xieng Khouang, Borikamxai, and Xaisomboune provinces) that many of the Hmong refugees claim to have fled.
Recent steps taken by the Thai and Lao governments to speed up the forced repatriation of this population have further increased the anxiety and fear among the population in the camp. In May 2007, the Thai and Lao governments signed the Lao-Thai Committee on Border Security agreement, allowing Thailand to send Lao Hmong asylum seekers back upon arrival. This agreement led to the repatriation of 31 Hmong to Laos in late May. On 9 June, 163 Hmong asylum seekers were forcibly driven back over the border. No international human rights organizations have access to them and their safety and whereabouts remain unclear.
In September 2007, the Thai and Lao authorities announced their intention to send back the refugees in Huai Nam Khao before the end of 2008 without any independent screening process.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not been allowed to access the camp or to conduct its refugee status determination process at any point over the last two years.
Out of concern for the safety and well-being of the Hmong refugees in the Huai Nam Khao camp, MSF is urgently calling upon the government of Thailand to:
- Stop the forced repatriation proceedings against the Hmong refugees in Huai Nam Khao, and
- Carry out a proper objective screening process controlled by an independent, legitimate third party, such as the UNHCR , who can assess the legitimacy of their fears, verify their claims to refugee status and protection, and assure that any repatriation to Laos is voluntary.