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Assisting displaced Hmong in Thailand

© UNICEF-Thailand/2005/Rodraksa
A Hmong migrant father holds his two-year-old daughter while she receives a measles vaccine. Hundreds others are in the queue.

By Natthinee Rodraksa

PHETCHABUN, Thailand, 25 August 2005 – A 5-by-3 metre thatched hut covered with a large plastic sheet for a roof is what Pa, a 15-year-old Hmong girl, calls home. 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 – no one in her family has ever even 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 meagre living doing embroidery. She makes 120-150 baht ($3.00 to $3.50) per piece of embroidery – a handicraft that normally takes a month to complete.

Migration causes a rise in population

Pa’s situation today is similar to that of many of the estimated 6,000 Hmong who crossed illegally into Thailand from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic over the past year.

© UNICEF-Thailand/2005/Ketunuti
The displaced Hmong population from Laos is now left living in a makeshift settlement along the roads of Ban Huay Nam Khao village in the northern province of Petchabun in Thailand.

The latest Hmong migration into Thailand began late last year. They are believed to have been lured across the border by rumours that they would be selected for resettlement in a third country if they crossed into Thailand.

They came in small groups, first crossing the mighty Mekong River, then moving into the northern province of Phetchabun to join their relatives in Ban Huay Nam Khao – a large community of Hmong-descended Thai. Some of these relatives are said to have been affiliated with the CIA’s operations during the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

The rumour prompted a gradual influx of Hmong migrants into the village over the past months, leading to a tenfold increase in the population, from 400-500 to nearly 6,000 as of August 2005.

The dramatic increase caused a political outcry, and led to an order by the National Security Council (NSC) of Thailand in June 2005, forcing the Hmong migrants to leave their shelters – and local villagers to stop harbouring them.

The displaced population is now left living in the makeshift settlement along the roads of Ban Huay Nam Khao village.

Humanitarian assistance reaches displaced Hmong

Negotiations for the Hmong’s repatriation have been ongoing between the Thai government and their counterparts in the Lao PDR capital, 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. Together with local counterparts and international non-governmental organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières 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 and 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, while the Thai and Lao PDR governments work out an agreement on 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.



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