It isn't the repatriation that is the problem, it is what will happen once they are. The "no foreigner" sentiment in Thailand that began under Thaksin continues with possibly deadly consequences.
Thousands of Hmong in Thailand to be screened for repatriation to Laos
Thai officials plan to screen thousands of ethnic Hmong in northern Thailand to determine which should be repatriated to Laos, Thai and Lao authorities said Tuesday.
Thai military officials who control an informal refugee settlement in the northern province of Phetchabun, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Laos border, will screen the camp's nearly 8,000 Hmong to decide which should be deported, said Lt. Gen. Nipat Thonglek.
"These people are illegal immigrants and so they have to be deported to Laos," Nipat said.
The Hmong say they will be persecuted if they return to Laos. Many of them fought on the side of a pro-U.S. 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. Several thousand continue to hide out in the jungles of Laos, where they are hunted down by the military.
Thailand, however, claims that many of the 8,000 Hmong are not legitimate refugees, and have violated Thai law by entering the country illegally.
It says those who have entered the country since 2004 will be sent back. Those who arrived prior to that will either be allowed to stay in Thailand or sent to a third country.
Both Thai and Lao officials have rejected any international oversight in the screening process.
"Thailand and Laos have agreed that this is a bilateral issue and we can do it well and transparently," Gen. Nipat said. "We don't need any other agencies to be involved in the process."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly requested to take part in the screening process to verify if the Hmong's fears of persecution are genuine.
"For the credibility of the process, it might be useful to have some outside agencies involved," said Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the U.N. agency.
Yong Chanthalansy, a Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman, dismissed concerns that the Hmong have anything to fear by returning home. To make his point, he said the government would be providing land for up to 500 Hmong who are homeless.
"The Hmong are just making it up to put the government in a bad light so that they could find justification to go to a third country," Yong said.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman declined to comment on reports of the screening program, but acknowledged there were a number of projects aimed at repatriating or resettling ethnic Hmongs living in Thailand.
"We support the process of reconciliation and support the process of people being able to either ultimately return home or find a place to settle elsewhere," said spokesman Tom Casey.