Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Blot on Bangkok's Humanitarian Record

Bordered by authoritarian regimes, Thailand has long struggled to deal with waves of asylum seekers. But Bangkok's decision to repatriate ethnic Hmong to Laos this week stands as a blot on the nation's reputation as a humane port of refuge.

A force of 5,000 Thai army and police personnel forcibly expelled more than 4,500 men, women and children to one of Southeast Asia's most repressive states Monday. The group included 158 refugees held at Nong Khai who were accepted for resettlement in countries such as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States. The rest, held at Huay Nam Khao, were denied access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which stood ready to evaluate their asylum claims. In the lead-up to the deportation, the army jammed the Hmong's cell-phone signals and rounded up 130 leaders, presumably to squash attempts to protest.

Thailand has tried to put a good face on its actions, claiming the Hmong were "economic migrants," rather than refugees deserving of U.N. protection, and that their return was voluntary. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Tuesday that Laos guaranteed protection for the repatriated group, but didn't provide any specific details. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva assured local media outlets Saturday that the government would "take law and humanitarian principles into consideration" in dealing with the Hmong.

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