Lao People's Democratic Republic IDP Figures analysis
IDMC estimates that up to 4,500 people are displaced in Laos as of February 2015.
The main source for the current number of IDPs in Laos is Amnesty International (AI) which reported the figure in its 2012 annual report (AI, May 2012). All IDPs were Hmong asylum seekers deported by the Thai authorities at the end of December 2009 and sent back to Laos where they were resettled by the authorities.
This estimate includes at least 3,500 IDPs who were resettled in a number of villages, including Phonekham camp in Borikhamsay province and Pha Lak camp in Vientiane province (AI, May 2012; SMH, 13 January 2010). It also includes 158 people recognised by UNHCR as refugees and who had been held in a detention centre in Thailand near the Laos border (UNHCR, 28 December 2009).
The figure of 3,500 cannot be independently verified. The gap between 3’500 and 4’500 IDPs may be explained by the fact that some were able to return to their homes as was reported by the Laos government in 2014, although this could not be confirmed (Government of Laos, 5 November 2014, p.16).
A number of visits to the Phonekham camp have been organised by the government for members of the diplomatic community and some international organisations since 2009, although under strict government supervision (Government of Laos, 5 November 2014, p.16). Following a visit to the camp in May 2012, the US ambassador noted conditions seem to have improved both with regards to access to basic services and livelihood opportunities (USDOS, 25 May 2012). In 2014, however, a coalition of NGOs reported that limitations on freedom of movement were still imposed on residents of the Phonekham camp who were not allowed to move further than within a five kilometre radius beyond the camp (UNPO, June 2014; RFA, 7 March 2011).
As the authorities continues to limit independent international access to the displaced, it is not possible to confirm the current number of IDPs who live in resettlement camps, nor to assess the extent to which they have been able to achieve durable solutions. Consequently, IDMC considers that AI’s figure remains most credible and up-to-date available.
Background to Hmong forced repatriation
The 4,500 IDPs are all ethnic Hmong who are part of a larger group that started fleeing to Thailand in 2004 to escape alleged human rights violations and persecution from the Laos government and who sought refuge in neighbouring northern Thailand.
Most IDPs first fled to Petchabun province in Thailand where they requested asylum. They lived in Huai Nam Khao camp in Thailand, where they waited for their asylum request to be processed. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the camp hosted 7,500 Lao Hmongs in 2007 (MSF, 31 October 2007).
In May 2007 an agreement was signed between Thailand and Laos that allowed Thailand to forcibly deport Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos (MSF, 31 October 2007).
Forced repatriation of the Hmong hosted in Huai Nam Khao camp in Thailand took place mainly in two phases:
In June 2008, the Thai authorities, who considered Lao Hmong as illegal migrants, sent back a first group of 800 people to Laos (MSF, 25 June 2008). Other groups of Hmong were subsequently also sent back. In total, some 3,000 Hmong are believed to have been forced back to Laos by the Thai authorities. In May 2011, the Laos authorities reported that those Hmong returnees who were not moved to resettlement sites had been allowed to return to their home villages (GOL, 12 May 2011, p.13).
In December 2009, some 4,500 Hmong were sent back to Laos. After being first held in a heavily guarded camp near the town of Paksan, at least 3,500 were later moved to a number of resettlement villages, including Phonekham village in Borikhamsay province (AI, May 2012; SMH, 13 January 2010; HRW, 20 January 2010).
Displacement caused by state-led ethnic and religious persecution
Not included in AI’s estimate are Hmong who fled in the early 2000s as a result of attacks by government forces on villages suspected of supporting anti-government rebels (STP, May 2006). However, lack of access makes it impossible to give any precise figures. Estimates range from several hundred to several thousand although the former is a more likely figure given that many have come out of hiding in recent years (CRS, 4 January 2010, p. 8; AI, 23 May 2007). Most of those who surrendered are reported to have been relocated to resettlement villages, although information remains scarce. In 2014, there were unconfirmed reports of some Hmong in the Phou Bia region facing starvation after being forced to constantly move around to escape human rights violations from government forces (HRC, 24 October 2014, p.7).
There are also reports of members of religious minorities, in particular Christians, who have been evicted or forced to flee their villages because of limitations to their freedom of religion imposed by local authorities, including in some cases campaigns aimed at forcing them to renounce their faith. In 2010, the UN Special Rapporteur of freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, estimated that the number of reports on such incidents was decreasing (HRC, 27 January 2010, p. 13). No credible estimates are available but their numbers are believed to be relatively small despite ongoing reports of displacement in 2014 (RFA, 13 November 2014; Asianews, 28 March 2014).