17 Sept 2008
On September 16, four plainclothes Lao officials arrived at Nong Khai IDC trying to get access to the 158 Hmong refugees still being held there. Two of the officials happened to be ethnic Hmong and were able to question one elderly refugee before being asked to leave by Thai prison authorities.
The plainclothes Lao officials questioned the old man in his native Hmong language, asking him where he came from and why he lived in the jungle. They asked him where his wife and children were currently living and what the Thai authorities had told the Hmong refugees regarding prospects of their future.
These types of sneaky visits by Lao officials have been an ongoing problem for the Hmong refugees. On past occasions, Lao officials have been allowed free access to the Hmong and even brought up to their second floor cells. They’ve even been allowed to photograph and freely question the Hmong refugees.
On the other hand, UNHCR, western diplomats, human rights groups, and journalists have all been forbidden access to these Hmong. This obvious double standard has enraged the Hmong refugees, who feel they have absolutely no recourse to justice.
Meanwhile, just days earlier on September 11, the Lao government had invited a high-level Thai military delegation to visit Ban Pha Lak, the highly promoted Hmong returnee village. Whisked in by Lao military helicopter, Thai officials and some invited local news media were carefully escorted through the village by the Lao government appointed village chief. Not a jungle returnee himself, but rather a long-time trusted communist official posted there, he painted a very positve view on the progress of this new settlement site and how happy the Hmong returnees were.
Rather than allow the western news media, foreign diplomatic community, UNHCR, or international human rights groups access to Ban Pha Lak, the Lao government has continued to tightly control who travels there and to whom these Hmong returnees can talk to. After the Thai delegation was airlifted out, the Lao government immediately posted photos and captions of the brief visit to show the foreign diplomatic and international community how free these returnees really are http://www.flickr.com/photos/phalak1/
Meanwhile, back at Nong Khai IDC jail, the Hmong refugees can clearly see what's going on. They, along with their sick infant children cramped in their hot tiny cells, wait for the international community to come to their rescue.