Thailand Forces Repatriation of Hmong Refugees

FRESNO, Calif. The deportation process began this morning and involved thousands of Thai troops.

Hmong Americans here in the valley are now concerned for their family members' safety back home. Dancers entertained crowds at the Fresno fairgrounds this weekend as the largest Hmong new year's celebration in the country got underway. The event attracts tens of thousands of Hmong each day. But as they celebrated, many thoughts were with their kin in Southeast Asia.

Pao Fang, the executive director of the Lao Family Community of Fresno, said people called from refugee camps this morning as they were being forced onto buses. Though the repatriation to Laos has long been expected, Hmong community leaders and the U.S. Government have expressed concern, citing the safety of refugees in need of protection from the Laotian government. Humanitarian organizations have pleaded with the government to allow monitoring of the refugees upon their return.

"I do believe their systems have been changed to improve the living arrangements in Laos. However, in regards to these refugees, no one knows. I cannot say if they're doing a bad thing, or good things. No one knows," said Fang.

Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong says the forced deportations put a damper on the Hmong New Year celebrations. Many Hmong Americans, including Xiong, spent time inside of refugee camps themselves, following the Vietnam War. Xiong, too, is hoping a third party will be allowed in, to help refugees in transition. "The politics is taking care of the politics. We just want to make sure, at the end of the day, the people are taken care of," said Xiong.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement this afternoon, once again urging the Thai government to hold off on deporting Hmong people who may need protection. But Thailand claims many of those being deported are illegal immigrants who don't have any reason to be classified as refugees.

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