According to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the people would be sent back in accordance with human rights rules. Laotian officials have visited the Huay Nam Khaow centre where the exiles live and have promised that the latter would be welcomed home.
Known as America’s ‘forgotten allies’, Laotian Hmong were recruited by the US military during the Vietnam War. Many of them fled in 1975 when the Communist Pathet Lao took over. Tens of thousands were resettled in the United States.
The United States and United Nations have expressed concern about the forced repatriation and the fate awaiting the Hmong once they return to Laos.
“We deeply regret this serious violation of the international humanitarian principles that Thailand has long been known for championing,” the US State Department said.
Some exiles will be able to stay in Thailand if their claim for refugee status is accepted. However, Thai authorities have repeatedly denied the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the camps where the Hmong are held.
Sunai Pasuk, from Human Rights Watch, said that the Thai government should allow United Nation observers in to supervise the process if it wants to avoid international criticism.
Sources told AsiaNews that according to Thai and Laotian authorities at least 159 Hmong could claim refugee status.
However, they too will be deported, but will benefit from an amnesty, and will be held in a hotel until they can be moved to a third country, which should occur within 30 days after their return to Laos.