SOME of the 4000 Hmong asylum seekers forcibly expelled from refugee camps in Thailand back into Laos will be resettled in Australia within a month.
Australia has joined an international chorus condemning Thailand's forced and secret deportation of the Hmong asylum seekers to Laos where they say they face persecution from the communist government.
The Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Crean, said Australia was ''highly disappointed'' in the actions of the Thai Government, particularly in sending recognised refugees back into possible danger.
The Hmong - a hill tribe in southern China who migrated across South-East Asia - have faced persecution in Laos since some fought alongside US troops in the Vietnam War.
''Australia is deeply concerned by the deportation of Lao Hmong from Thailand to Laos [and] again calls on Thailand and Laos to meet international standards for the treatment of refugees,'' Mr Crean said.
The 4300 Hmong, who had been living in the Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Thailand's north, were not allowed to meet representatives of the United Nations refugee agency before they were expelled. The UN says many would have legitimate asylum claims if they were allowed to be properly assessed.
A separate group of 158 Hmong, held in a separate detention centre in nearby Nong Khai, had been identified as ''persons of concern'' by the UN.
In a deal reminiscent of that struck between Australia and Indonesia over the fate of 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, those 158 Hmong have been promised UN assistance and resettlement to a third country within a month.
Four countries - Australia, Canada, the US and the Netherlands - are interviewing them with a view to granting them permanent residence. ''Australia and a number of other countries have agreed to accept these refugees for resettlement,'' Mr Crean said.
It took 5000 Thai troops - who carried batons and shields but not guns - a single day on Monday to clear the Huay Nam Khao refugee camp where more than 4000 Hmong had been living since 2004.
The Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said yesterday the repatriations were voluntary and were carried out without incident or violence.
Soldiers kept journalists, UN officials and human rights workers more than 12 kilometres from the camp as the asylum seekers were put on buses and army trucks and driven to the border.
The US condemned the deportations as ''a serious violation of humanitarian principles''. The UN said the expulsions ''set a very grave international example''.
When the communist Pathet Lao took power in Laos in 1975, thousands of Hmong fled. Others who remained waged a low-level insurgency. Tens of thousands have since resettled in the US. More than 2000 have moved to Australia.
The Thai Government says it has guarantees from the Lao Government that none of the Hmong will face retribution or persecution.
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