A Rarity: Forced Repatriation of the Hmong Mentioned in the News

Background: The Hmong are a proud Asian group mainly from northern Laos. They bled heavily fighting for the United States in our secret Laotian operations during the Vietnam war. We made great promises to these mountain people - and broke them. Left in a precarious position after the North Vietnamese took over Laos (establishing a puppet regime there), hundreds of thousands of Hmong fled to Thailand (many dying along the way) where refugee camps were established. The U.S. brought many Hmong to the States, mainly those who could prove they or their family members fought for us. Many thousands remained in the camps under oppressive conditions for nearly twenty years now. In spite of solid evidence of genocidal actions (yellow rain and other atrocities) by the Laotian government against the Hmong, we began a policy in 1991 of "repatriating" Hmong refugees back to Laos. U.S. officials deny that there has been forced repatriation. Below is one of the few newspaper articles I have seen that gives any attention to this issue:

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"Hmong Seek End to Repatriation"

by Bob Vitale, Post-Crescent Washington Bureau,
Post-Crescent, July 28, 1995, p. B-4.

Washington - The United Sates and United Nations are imposing a death sentence on thousands of Hmong still in Southeast Asian camps by forcing them back to a government they fled, former refugees told Congress on Thursday.

Contradicting U.S. and U.N. officials who claim no Hmong have been returned to Laos against their will, one Wisconsin man told members of a House human rights panel that his mother and brothers were forced onto a bus that took them from a refugee camp in Thailand back to their former home.

One brother was killed 18 days later.

"Laos is not a safe place for the Hmong," said Ter Moua, who came to the United States in 1988... "The communist regime in Laos has the power to do anything: to persecute, to kill, to do whatever it wishes, particularly against ethnic minorities like the Hmong."

Moua objects to an international agreement that calls for nearly all of the remaining refugees to be sent home this year. The House has already taken his side, voting in May to earmark $30 million for resettlement. Thursday's hearing examined allegations that refugees are being sent home against their will because of inept and corrupt camp officials.

(article continues discussing Hmong background)

After 20 years of resettlement, however, U.S. officials claim those remaining in Southeast Asia want to leave for reasons that are more economic than political. They say the United States and the United Nations should concentrate on returning refugees back to their former homes.

(article continues, discussing politicians in favor or opposed, quotes from a refugee about corrupt demands for money from camp officials, and a quote from a Congressman implying dissatisfaction with the U.N. handling of the Hmong.)

My comments: I have spoken with Hmong people in Appleton and Green Bay who tell of similar stories. People are being forced back to Laos where they are little more than slaves or where they may be killed. Not all Hmong are treated this way, but the most likely targets for abuse are those from families that provided soldiers for our secret war in Laos in the 1970s.

Yes, the U.S. and the United Nations deny that anybody is being forced back, but the lie is not hard to spot. These same officials say that we need to concentrate on returning the Hmong to their homes. Think about that. If the Hmong wanted to return to their homes, they're just one river away from Laos. Why aren't they going on their own? Why must the U.S. and the U.N. have to focus on getting them back? Simple: they don't want to go. So what do we do? Force them back. It's called forced repatriation.

This is not like sending New Yorkers back to New York (in spite of the horror stories they may tell). It's sending people to a country that has practiced genocide against them with chemical weapons and other tools. Laos is a brutal communist dictatorship - and the Hmong are viewed as enemies. The U.S. and U.N. policy seems to be to please the tyrants and ignore their victims. What's going on?

Near the end of her book, Tragic Mountains, Jane Hamilton-Merritt documents that the Bush Administration in 1991 sent roughly $15 million to Laos and Thailand to fund the closing of the refugee camps and the repatriation of the Hmong to Laos. That policy did not change under Clinton, apparently, though I do not know how much more money has been sent to Laos since Bush.

Once there were many camps of refugees, but now - according to my Hmong sources - only one remains. The problem is not just that the refugee camp officials are corrupt. The problem is that the U.S. and U.N. are encouraging forced repatriation. I surmise that the camp officials, knowing the policy, are able to please the powers that be and make a few extra bucks in the process. There are plenty of ways to rip off refugees without sending them back to Laos - unless the camp officials are just following orders.

What to do? Write your federal representatives and urge them to stop the forced repatriation of the Hmong.

The fact that we have left them in the lurch for 20 years does not make it right to turn them over to their enemies now. We got them into the war for us - and then we abandoned them. We have a debt. I'm not sure that bringing them to the U.S. is the answer (it's a very difficult adjustment) - but sending them to Laos definitely is not.

The Lao Human Rights Council is working to fight for the rights of Hmong refugees from Laos and for Human rights in Laos. They have produced a brief but informative video entitled "Forced Repatriation of Hmong Refugees From Thailand to Laos," Lao Human Rights Council, Denver, Colorado, 1992. Many Hmong people have been forced back to Laos, where gross human rights violations have occurred in spite of numerous promises from the United Nations and the Laotian government that the returned refugees would be safe and would be "monitored" closely. I borrowed this video from the Appleton, Wisconsin Public Library. The Lao Human Rights Council can be contacted at:

Lao Human Rights Council
P.O. Box 221254
1244 Velp Ave.
Green Bay, WI 54303

(414) 499-6864
Fax: (414) 499-0074

Dr. Vang Pobzeb
Lao Human Rights Council
P.O. Box 100157
Denver, CO 80250

(303) 777-4138
Fax: (303) 733-7254

Kue Xiong and Vang Neng
Lao Human Rights Council
P.O. Box 18352
Minneapolis, MN 55418

(612) 488-7047
(612) 522-6061
Fax: (612) 488-0224

According to the LHRC, over 300,000 people were killed by the communist Pathet Lao government between 1975 and 1992, including 46,000 former government officials, civic servants, military personnel, and their families.

Learn more about the tragic history of the Hmong people.

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Last Updated: March 11, 2000
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