Rep. Steve Kagen, Rep. Ron Kind, Sen. Russ Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl express concern for safety of repatriated Hmong
WASHINGTON — Wisconsin lawmakers and other members of Congress are concerned about the safety of ethnic Hmong recently deported from Thailand to Laos.
Reps. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, and Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl joined several of their House and Senate colleagues in signing letters to the deputy prime minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, calling for humane treatment of the returnees.
On Dec. 28, the Thai government repatriated more than 4,000 Lao Hmong who had been living in refugee camps. Human rights groups condemned the deportation, fearing that many of the Hmong would be persecuted by the communist Lao government.
The Hmong aided the United States in the Vietnam War.
“As you know, the United States shares a unique history with the Hmong people,” said the Jan. 13 letter signed by Kagen, Kind and 10 other House members. “As such, many members of the U.S. Congress are troubled by the sudden, mass-repatriation of the Lao Hmong.”
“Given the limited access that the Lao government currently affords to the international community, we find it extremely difficult to ascertain whether or not the returnees are safe,” the letter says.
The lawmakers said the Royal Thai Army estimated that at least 500 of the Hmong returnees risk persecution. The lawmakers urged the Lao government to allow the United Nations and other agencies access to the returnees to assess their well-being.
On Jan. 8, Feingold and Kohl signed a letter with eight other senators expressing similar concerns.
Both the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and the U.S. State Department have condemned the forced return of Lao Hmong and have urged the Lao government to admit international monitors.
Philip Smith, director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis, which has been closely monitoring the Hmong crisis, said that over the past two years, more than 8,000 Lao Hmong have been deported from Thailand to Laos. He said human rights groups have been denied access to the returnees.
Smith said the letters from members of Congress send a signal to the Lao government that the U.S. cares about human rights abuses against the Hmong.
Vaughn Vang, director of the Lao Human Rights Council in Green Bay, said Hmong living in the U.S. and other countries are afraid that many returnees will be tortured and subject to other abuse.
“We are very scared there will be state persecutions,” Vang said.