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31 December 2010
The Hmong people in Laos have faced repression for their role in the civil war which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. During the Vietnam War, an estimated 60,000 Hmong fighters played a part in covert American operations to prevent the establishment of a communist regime. When Laos was taken over by communist troops in 1975, tens of thousands of Hmong fled to neighbouring Thailand. Until 2006, army operations against small groups of Hmong people continued to force people to flee inside Laos or across the border to Thailand.
From 2006, some 7,700 Hmong people were forcibly repatriated from Thailand, 4,400 of them at the end of 2009. Most of them were taken to existing villages or resettlement sites where, according to the government, their basic needs were met and they became selfreliant. However, international observers warned of a risk of persecution, and those allowed to visit the resettlement sites in 2010 were given no opportunity to assess the extent to which residents had been able to achieve durable solutions. A smaller but undetermined number of Hmong people were still displaced in 2010, in small groups in the jungle, after seeking shelter from army operations carried out in previous years. Meanwhile, some members of religious minorities, in particular Christians, were also reportedly displaced as a result of limitations on the freedom of religion imposed by local authorities. The government has not acknowledged the displacement and denies perpetrating any human rights violations or discriminating against the Hmong in general. Advocates including the RSG on IDPs, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have highlighted the plight of displaced groups in Laos. In May 2010, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Laos led to a number of recommendations on the protection of Hmong returnees and religious minorities.
Since 2006, an estimated 7,700 Lao-Hmong who had sought refuge into neighbouring Thailand claiming persecution by the Lao government due to their role during the civil war have been forcibly sent back to Laos, both countries considering them as “illegal migrants”. An unknown number of Hmong, believed not to exceed a few hundreds, may remain displaced within Laos, hiding in small groups in the jungle in fear attacks by government forces. The majority of those who have come out of hiding and those who have been repatriated from Thailand have been resettled in existing or new villages where the government claims all their needs will be catered to.
Some international human rights groups have expressed serious doubts about the voluntary character of their return and resettlement as well as concern about the curtailment of some of their fundamental rights in the resettlement sites such as freedom of movements or the right to an adequate standard of living due to inadequate resources or limited livelihood opportunities.