Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit
Re: Detention and Mistreatment of Lao Hmong Refugees
Dear Prime Minister,
We write to you about the ongoing and serious violations of human rights committed by Thai authorities against Lao Hmong refugees at Nong Khai immigration detention center.
The original group of 147 Lao Hmong, which was recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as having a legitimate fear of persecution if returned to Laos, was rounded up in Bangkok for deportation on November 17, 2006. They were then moved to Nong Khai immigration detention center on December 8, 2006, and have been locked up there since. With 11 babies born while their parents have been in detention, their number now stands at 158.
Four foreign governments (the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia) have committed to resettle all 158 refugees, but Thai authorities have opposed this offer, claiming that resettlement would be a "pull factor" attracting more Lao Hmong to seek refuge in Thailand in hopes of resettlement elsewhere.
In violation of international refugee law, Thai authorities have used intimidation and the denial of basic necessities to coerce the refugees in Nong Khai immigration detention center to "voluntarily" return to Laos. In response to the refugees' attempts to resist deportation through hunger strikes in January 2007, Thai authorities restricted all of the refugees to two cells, subjected them to light deprivation, separated parents from their children, denied them mosquito nets and clean clothing, and cut off access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities. The refugees, mainly women and children, have all been put inside two nine-by-nine meter cells and kept there for as long as 22 hours per day.
Conditions slightly improved after international expressions of concern, but the refugees remain locked up. Stress is a major factor compromising their health. One mother has reportedly slipped into a vegetative state after suffering a brain aneurysm brought on by the stress of raising her newborn under such dire conditions. Many refugees complained that they have suffered chronic headaches from stress and fear of returning to Laos and facing persecution.
The abuse and mistreatment of the 158 Hmong refugees at Nong Khai immigration detention center have rightly subjected Thailand to international scrutiny and criticism. We strongly urge Thailand to respect its obligation under international law to protect refugees. The immoral and unlawful policy against these refugees should end immediately.
We have learned that Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has discussed resettlement plans with senior officials of the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia. We hope that an agreement will soon be concluded and the 158 refugees in Nong Khai immigration detention center will all be allowed to leave Thailand for resettlement without further delay.
On a separate note, we would like to bring to your attention our concerns about the situation of 5,000 Lao Hmong currently detained in Huay Nam Khao Camp in Petchabun, who will be subject to deportation as a result of an agreement between the governments of Thailand and Laos. While Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, under customary international law the Thai government has an obligation of nonrefoulement (non-return) of persons to places where their life or freedom is at risk. In this regard, we would like to ask the Thai government to guarantee all Lao Hmong in Huay Nam Khao Camp access to screening and status determination procedures if they wish to make an asylum claim, prior to deportation or forced return.
We look forward to your attention to these matters of concern.