On early Monday morning (local time), the Thailand army began an operation to close a camp housing 4,000 Hmong ethnic refugees, which will be sent back to Laos, according to Colonel Thana Charuvat, reports AFP
. The camps have been closed off to journalists and international bodies.
Charuvat, coordinator of the repatriation, told reporters that 5,000 soldiers, civilians and officials assisted the roundup of the refugees in the camp in the village of Huay Nam Khao.
“They will be transported from the camp to the army camp… before moving to immigration in Nong Khai [near the Thai-Laotian border] and going to Laos. The operation is expected to take one day. Around 2,100 of them are cooperating with the move. The army is talking with the rest.” But Charuvat assured the international community that Laos will provide the refugees complete amnesty.
Soldiers were unarmed but do carry shield and batons that meet international standards where people are moving back against their will, reports Press Association
. Charuvat added that the operation will conclude within the next 24 hours.
notes that the Hmong refugees are seeking asylum in Thailand because they face persecution from the Laotian government that dates back all the way to the Vietnam War. The purpose for maltreatment is because they fought aside the United States.
However, the Thailand government is claiming that the Hmong refugees have no legitimate claims to refugee status and are nothing more than economic migrants who illegally entered the country.
The international community has gotten involved in the situation. Head of the United Nations Refugee Agency, Antonio Guterres, urged Thailand earlier this week to end the expulsions because it would “set a very grave international example.”
While, the United States is surprised and saddened by the recent decisions by the Thai government and offered them an alternative course. Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for population, refugees and migration, said, “We have made it abundantly clear that we are prepared to roll up our sleeves and work with partners in Thailand for a solution that is humane and responsible.”