History in Laos
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Repatriation: How Safe is it?
By Joseph Davy
This article provides updated information on the human rights climate in Laos as it pertains to the repatriation of Hmong refugees from Thailand. The disappearance of Vue Mai and the arrests or demotions of Hmong officals in the Lao government are an indication of the problems faced by Hmong both as repatriates and residents in Laos. The recent abuses against several hundred Hmong at the Ban Phan Thao repatriation site are described in detail.
In order to understand the current problems existing at Ban Phan Thao repatriation site in Laos, one must go back to the beginnings of the repatriation program. In the late 1980s Thailand wanted to close all the refugee camps. Ban Vinai camp, which was the largest Hmong camp in Thailand, would be the biggest challenge to close.
On June 9-10, 1991, the Hmong/Highlander Development Fund sponsored “The Hmong-American Conference on the Future of Hmong Refugees” in Washington, D.C. The purpose of this conference was to convince the Hmong-American population that it was safe for their relatives in Thailand to repatriate to Laos. Vue Mai, the Hmong leader of Ban Vinai camp, was flown in to be a participant at the conference. Since he was the Hmong leader of the camp, it was important to convince him it was safe to return. Once convinced, the Hmong refugees would follow him.
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