Assisting displaced Hmong in Thailand
By Natthinee Rodraksa
PHETCHABUN, August 2005 – The place Pa, a 15-year-old Hmong girl, calls home is a 5-by-3 metre thatched hut covered with a large plastic sheet that serves as the roof. She shares these cramped quarters with 17 other members of her family, 14 of whom are children.
At night Pa sleeps on an old mat on a tiny bamboo litter. The best meal she has had for a long time is a bowl of plain rice. She cries when asked about school, although she has never been to one. In fact, no one in her family has ever set foot inside a school building.
“I followed my family to Thailand without any possessions except for the clothes I was wearing and another set of clothes to change,” says Pa.
With some support from the Hmong villagers with whom they are connected by the same Chinese surname, Pa and her family members earn a meager living doing embroidery. She makes 120-150 baht (US$3-3.5) for each item of embroidery, which normally takes a month to complete.
Pa’s experience and current situation is similar to many of the estimated 6,000 Hmong who have crossed illegally into Thailand from Lao PDR over the past year.
The ancestors of these Hmong migrants are said to have been affiliated with the CIA’s operations during the Viet Nam War in the 1970s.
The latest Hmong migration into Thailand began late last year. They were believed to have been lured by a rumor that they would be selected for resettlement in a third country if they crossed over into Thailand.
They came gradually in small groups, first crossing the mighty Mekong River and then moving into the northern province of Phetchabun to join distant relatives in Ban Huay Nam Khao – a large community of Hmong-descended Thai.
The rumor prompted a gradual influx of Hmong migrants into the village over several months, leading to a tenfold rise in the population from 400-500 to nearly 6,000 (as of August 2005).
This drastic increase caused a political stir and led to an order by the Thai National Security Council (NSC) in June 2005 forcing the Hmong migrants to leave their shelters and forbidding local villagers to stop harboring them.
The displaced population is now left living in a make-shift settlement along the roads of Ban Huay Nam Khao village.
Humanitarian assistance reaches displaced Hmong
Negotiation for the Hmong’s repatriation has been ongoing between the Thai government and their counterparts in the Lao PDR capital of Vientiane. In the meantime, the Thai government has allowed the group access to basic humanitarian assistance, even though they are considered illegal migrants.
Following the NSC order, UNICEF fielded a team to conduct a rapid assessment of their situation. UNICEF has been actively coordinating humanitarian assistance to the Hmong settlement with other aid organizations.
Together with local counterparts and international NGOs, including Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Rescue Committee, UNICEF is working to ensure the well being of Hmong children and their families in the settlement. UNICEF recently provided 3,000 doses of measles vaccine for all Hmong children between 0-12 years of age in the displaced settlement. Under-five children were also given vitamin A supplementation. In addition, UNICEF is supporting the establishment of a safe water and sanitation system in the settlement.
The Hmong migrants are likely to remain in Ban Huay Nam Khao for at least another three months as the Thai and Lao PDR governments work out an agreement for their safe return to their country of origin.
UNICEF and its partners will continue to monitor their situation and provide additional assistance in order to ensure the well being of the Hmong children and their families.