[JURIST] Several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], on Sunday expressed concern over the potential for violence as the Thai government begins the forced deportation of 4,000 ethnic Hmong [materials] to Laos from a refugee camp inside Thailand. The Hmong fear that they will face [AP report] persecution in Laos for supporting the opposition government if they are forced to leave their camp in Thailand. The Thai government believes that the Hmong entered the country illegally, and therefore are not entitled to be protected as refugees. In anticipation of potential problems with the evacuation, more than 4,500 Thai troops, police and security staff were sent [Bangkok Post report] to the camp for assistance. In a statement [text] issued by the US Department of State [official website] last week, the US government asked Thailand to reconsider its decision.
The deportation of the Hmong has already caused tension in the region. In October, HRW called on Laos [JURIST report] to release Hmong leaders who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand and imprisoned in Laos for their role in a June protest at the camp. The Hmong have been engaged in conflict with the Laos government since the Vietnam War, during which they supported the US [MSF backgrounder, PDF]. Over 300,000 Hmong fled Laos to Thailand in the early 1970s, where several thousand still remain. In 2004, Thailand began forcibly repatriating [BBC report] Hmong refugees to Laos, where refugees reportedly fear reprisal.