The military and refugees

15 01 2010

Prachatai (13 January 2010) reports on the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and its expression of “grave concern over the Thai military’s attempts to suppress the news coverage of its deportation of 4,000 Hmong refugees from their camp in Thailand’s northern province of Petchabun in December 2009.

SEAPA states that the Thai Army blocked both Thai and foreign news crews from entering a major Hmong refugee camp in Baan Huay Nam Kao village, preventing them from reporting on the Thai Army’s relocation operation. The Army, in the meantime, held a press conference in a military camp in Pitsanulok province, some 100 kilometers away from the Ban Nam Khao refugee camp.

That’s what happens when the army is back with a huge political role and with a government that owes its position to the protective shell that the military provides.

SEAPA adds that the “plight of Hmong asylum seekers is already under-reported in the Thai media. The latest incident showed the Army’s effort to influence how the refugees’ deportation should be reported in the media.

Meanwhile, in the Bangkok Post (13 January 2010) US Ambassador to Thailand Eric G John has an article entitled “Lack of transparency thwarted attempts to safeguard Hmong.”

Expressing gratitude for Thailand’s hosting of “hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and political persecution in the region,” he points out that “Thailand was not left to shoulder this burden alone” with substantial international support and with “almost half a million men, women and children who entered Thailand seeking temporary refuge status have been ultimately resettled in the United States and other countries.”

John says that: “It is against this background of historical generosity and cooperation that the US was disappointed at the Thai decision to deport 4,689 Laotian Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos on Dec 28, 2009, despite clear indications that some in the group required protection.

He goes on to explain that the U.S. consulted for many months with our Thai civilian and military partners regarding the best way to identify people who needed protection…. We agreed with our Thai friends not to begin a resettlement programme for the entire group … due to the Thai concern that it would act as a magnet for more arrivals from Laos.

He adds: “we remained concerned that some in the camp had legitimate protection concerns and should not be forced to return. We encouraged participation by UNHCR, the organisation with the international mandate for making such determinations, and informed the Royal Thai Government that we would consider for resettlement in the US any cases referred to us. However, the Royal Thai Government denied the UNHCR access to the camp’s population.

Indeed, he points out that in January 2008, the Royal Thai Government assured us that it had conducted its own screening process, during which about 800 people were identified as having protection concerns and should not be returned to Laos involuntarily. Despite repeated requests, that list of 800 people was never provided to the UNHCR or to any potential resettlement country.

Furter, the “group detained in the Nong Khai immigration detention centre for over three years – which included 87 children – had been screened by UNHCR prior to their imprisonment and determined to have refugee status. Under international law, UNHCR-recognised refugees should not be forcibly returned to their country of origin…. All the refugees we interviewed in Nong Khai told us on Dec 28 that they did not wish to return to Laos, clearly indicating that the return was involuntary.”

This extraordinary and scathing indictment of the Thai government and its military is compulsory reading.



2 responses

22 12 2010
Asylum seeked imprisoned | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] has a horrid track record on dealing with refugees, and PPT has posted on this several times (e.g. here and […]

22 12 2010
Asylum seekers imprisoned | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] has a horrid track record on dealing with refugees, and PPT has posted on this several times (e.g. here and […]

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