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US to Resettle Hmong Refugees - 2003-12-18

The U.S. government says it will resettle thousands of Hmong refugees from Laos who have been living for decades at a Buddhist temple in Thailand. The U.S. embassy in Bangkok on Thursday announced it is beginning a resettlement program for an estimated 15,000 ethnic Hmong refugees. They had fled to Thailand following the Communist takeover in Laos in 1975.

U.S. Ambassador Darryl Johnson traveled to the Tham Krabok temple, 90 kilometers north of Bangkok, to discuss the program with senior Thai officials and leaders of the Hmong community at the temple. An embassy statement says any Hmong living at the temple who was registered with the Thai government as of August will be eligible for the program. Registration for resettlement will begin in February and will be open for a limited time.

The Hmong, a tribal group from the Lao highlands, worked with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War to counter the Communist insurgency in Laos. They were among the nearly three hundred thousand Lao citizens who fled to Thailand, fearing reprisals after the Communist takeover in Laos.

Most were subsequently resettled in the United States and about 20,000 eventually returned home. But many remained in Thailand due to immigration problems. And a large number of these took up residence at the Tham Krabok temple.

The Thai government tried a few years ago to move the Hmong community near the Lao border, but abandoned the plan after the government in Vientiane protested. The Lao government feared the Hmong would engage in anti-government activities.

The U.S. embassy gave no reason for introducing the program at this time and it did not explain why the program is limited solely to Hmong residing at the temple.