Friday, August 17, 2007

Hmong Stage Hunger Strike

Can't say I blame them.

Hmong Refugees in Thai Jail Launch Hunger Strike

Some 149 ethnic Hmong refugees from Laos have launched a hunger strike to protest the harsh conditions under which they are being held at a jail in northeastern Thailand, a UN agency and refugee advocates said Friday.

The Hmong, who have been granted refugee status by the UN and promised resettlement in third countries, have been held since January by immigration police in Nong Khai, 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

To protest the conditions of their detention, the 149 began a hunger strike at lunch time Thursday, said Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the Bangkok office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Describing the state of their incarceration as "deplorable" and "inhumane," she said the refugees—who include 90 children—are crammed into two cells with no windows and are not allowed out. Their sole source of water is a bathroom, she said.

"What's really shocking is that they haven't committed any crimes," McKinsey said. "They are legitimate refugees with the status of refugees."

The Hmong say they fear political persecution in Laos. Many Hmong fought on the side of a pro-US Laotian government in the 1960s and 1970s before the communist takeover of their country in 1975.

More than 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, fled to Thailand after the takeover. Most were resettled in third countries, particularly the United States, though several thousand were voluntarily repatriated back home. Several thousand continue to hide out in the jungles of Laos, where they are hunted down by the military.