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Thailand Orders Unregistered Hmong to Leave Refugee Camp - 2004-08-25

More than 2,000 Hmong refugees in Thailand who missed an August 2003 deadline to qualify for resettlement in the United States have been ordered by the Thai government to leave a refugee camp.

Thai authorities on Wednesday told the unregistered Hmong at the Wat Tham Krabok Buddhist temple to leave the area. More than 15,000 Hmong refugees at the temple refugee camp have registered for resettlement in the United States. The United States resettlement program applies only to those who registered at the camp by August 2003. A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Kristin Young, says more than 2,000 unregistered Hmong at the camp want asylum in the United States. Some had lived near the temple for years, but somehow missed the registration deadline. "We also understand that there are other Laotian Hmong who live in other provinces in Thailand who may also have moved to the temple area in the hopes of getting resettled to the United States," said Ms. Young. "And we also understand that there are people who are crossing over from Laos who've been contacted by relatives and others in the U.S. encouraging them to come to Thailand to try to join these resettlement efforts."

Nearly 1,500 Hmong have been sent to the United States this year. A U.S. embassy official says the resettlement has gone well and the embassy hopes to complete it by the end of the year. The Hmong ethnic group is primarily from Laos. They sided with the United States during the Vietnam War era, when Washington was trying to prevent a communist takeover of Laos.

The U.S. official says the focus now is on those Hmong who already qualify for resettlement. However, those who missed the registration deadline may be able to qualify for resettlement through other programs, such as one that allows immigrants to the United States to bring family members to the country.

Sunai Phasuk, with the Amnesty International office in Bangkok, says many of the unregistered Hmong rushed to the camp recently after hearing rumors the United States would accept more refugees. "The resettlement program has created very high hope among the refugees and asylum seekers as a way out for the suffering not only in the places where they escaped from but also from conditions in the refugee camps in Thailand," he said.

Thousands of Hmong have been living in Thailand since fleeing Laos after the communists took over in 1975.

Thailand closed most of the camps in the 1990s and allowed the Hmong to live and work in the country's northern provinces.