Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tough times for the Lao Hmong

It's not the life any of us would wish for. These folk can do nothing about their situation. They're now stuck in a no-man's-land with no prospects and no hope. I wonder if they regret helping the US during the 60's and 70's?

Bangkok Post News: Tough times for the Lao Hmong
Life remains difficult for Sir Sae-yang, a 60-year-old Lao Hmong, and his eight family members who crossed illegally into Thailand's Ban Huay Nam Khao village from Laos two years ago.

A former guerrilla fighter in the US campaign against communists in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s, Sir Sae-yang and his family members came to the village, hoping to start a new life or to be resettled in a third country.

Unfortunately, the Thai government has not helped them, insisting Sir Sae-yang's family and about 6,000 other Hmong refugees at the village be deported back to Laos soon.

"We don't want to go back to Laos because we're afraid that Lao soldiers will kill us if we're caught. So we want to live here or be sent to a third country," said Sir Sae-yang.

The lives of Sir Sae-yang and his family have not improved since they arrived in the village. The same goes for other Hmong refugees who were recruited by the US to fight the communists in Laos.

Sir Sae-yang and his family live in a 6-by-4 metre thatched hut covered with a large plastic sheet. At night, they sleep on old mats on tiny bamboo litters. His small nephew and niece do not have enough thick blankets to protect them from the cold.

The thatched hut they call home is one of hundreds of bamboo houses along both sides of the main road between Ban Khek Noi and Ban Huay Nam Khao villages in Khao Kho district.

There is no electricity or running water in the village. The family uses candles for light and gets its water from the nearby Khek Noi river.

Sir Sae-yang and his sons are jobless because Thai authorities do not allow the Lao Hmong to leave the area to find work. His wife and daughters earn a meagre living doing embroidery. They make around 60-100 baht a piece of embroidery with each item normally taking a month to complete.

"Nowadays, our family has to wait for food assistance from NGOs. They come to the village every 10 days to give rice to us and other refugees," said Kua, 26, one of Sir Sae-yang's sons.

"The best meal we've had for a long time is a bowl of rice with salt and vegetable soup as we have no money to buy pork and chicken meat from Thai vendors at the village," he said.

Mr Kua, who has a five-month baby son, said he worried for the health of his baby son once his wife stopped breastfeeding. He feared his son would lack nutritious food to eat.

Mr Kua called on people to donate healthy food and other necessities to children in the village.

The Thai government stopped giving the Lao Hmong refugees humanitarian aid about a year ago. Instead it allows NGOs to take care of them.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, a Paris-based NGO, entered the village about a year ago to provide the refugees with health and contraception counselling and basic medical treatment, while International Red Cross (IRC) oversaw the building of a sanitation system in the village.

Kannika Leelapattanakit, 27, a Thai Hmong dressmaker at Ban Khek Noi village, said local authorities and police have ordered all Thai Hmong not to give any help to the refugees. They threatened to arrest those who disobeyed the order on the charge of harbouring migrants.

"The Thai government should now do something to send these Lao Hmong people back to their homes as quickly as possible as we don't want outsiders to misunderstand that we Thai Hmong at Ban Khek Noi played a part in bringing them to Thailand because we are of the same ethnic group," Ms Kannika said.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is gravely concerned over the issue of humanitarian relief aid to the Lao-Hmong and it will ask the Thai government to review its role.

[emphasis added]

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