History in Laos
IN THIS SECTION
Refugees From Laos
The only land-locked country in South-East Asia, Laos covers an area of 235,800 square kilometres with an estimated population of 3,600,000 before 1975. It has border with China in the North, Vietnam in the East, Cambodia in the South and Thailand and Burma in the West. As a country with many neighbours, Laos has often witnessed population movements across its borders at different stages of its history. These have usually been in the form of migration by farmers in search of new lands, or refugees fleeing political persecution from countries such as China or Vietnam. In Laos itself, internal migration by farmers and people affected by war or economic recession has also frequently occurred.
However, at no times had these population movements been so massive, involving tens of thousands of people, as has been the case of refugees during the Indochina War which ended with the communist victory in 1975. Modern warfare, continuous antagonism between dissenting political groups, fear of reprisals against those on the losing side of the war and many other factors contributed to make people seek freedom both within and outside Laos. When peace negotiations began in 1973 between the Lao warring factions 750,000 of its 3,000,000 population had become displaced by the war. Since 1975, more than 300,000 Lao had sought asylum in Thai refugee camps. Although 25,000 have been repatriated to Laos, most of these refugees had been resettled in other countries – with an estimated 200,000 in the USA; 25,000 in France; 5,000 in Canada; 1,600 in Australia and smaller numbers in Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, Japan and other countries, while more than 40,000 remained scattered in different parts of Thailand.
This pattern of population displacement arising from foreign interference, internal power struggles and animosities between neighbouring groups has persisted over the centuries in Laos. An examination of the past may, thus, help us to better understand one of the tragic consequences of this unyielding power play, the country’s recurrent refugee problem during the last 30 years.
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