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Cable Wikileaks: "Unhcr's Feller Readout On Visits To Thailand And Laos "
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07BANGKOK2594 2007-05-09 23:35:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Bangkok
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1. (SBU) Summary. UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller
told the Bangkok diplomatic corps on May 3 that she thought a
Thai-Lao solution to the issue of the 155 Nong Khai Hmong might be
possible soon if the concerns of the two sides were addressed. She
stated that she believed both sides now recognized that UNHCR's
views on this issue must be considered. Her reception by the Lao
was friendly and she thought her visit represented an advance in
UNHCR's relations with the Lao. The Hmong issue has led the Thai to
reconsider UNHCR's overall screening of refugees in Thailand. End

2. (SBU) On May 3, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection
Erika Feller briefed the diplomatic corps on her just-completed
mission to Thailand and Laos.

3. (SBU) In discussions on the 155 Hmong in the Nong Khai Detention
Center, Feller said that RTG officials told her they had four
concerns: they did not want to create a pull factor; they did not
want to increase the trafficking problem by rewarding those who had
assisted Hmong to leave Laos for Thailand; they did not want to
endanger their hard-won bilateral agreement with Laos on border
issues; and they did not want to undermine the principle of the
supremacy of national law in resolving similar problems of this
nature. Feller said the Lao government had similar views on
trafficking, the bilateral agreement and national law. The Lao also
said they were concerned about their international image of being a
humanitarian country that protects the interests of minority people.

4. (SBU) Feller asserted that despite their concern with not
undermining bilateral arrangements and national law, both countries
now seemed to agree that UNHCR was also a legitimate stakeholder
that had a role to play. She said that General Winai Phatthiyakul,
the Secretary General of the Thai Council of National Security,
stated that the RTG was prepared to find a solution to the Nong Khai
Hmong issue and that UNHCR should assume that the 155 Hmong would
not be sent back to Laos. He asked if the entire group could be
sent to one resettlement country. Feller said she responded that
that was unlikely and proposed instead that they all might leave for
one country where their cases could be completed before resettlement
to their final destinations.

5. (SBU) Feller said she received the impression that the RTG would
not allow the group to be moved to another, better location within
Thailand until a final resolution was worked out. Winai asked
Feller to get confirmation from the Lao that they would not insist
that the 155 be returned to Laos. Feller said she did not get the
same unequivocal statement from the Lao on this matter that she
received from Winai. At the same time, she said it should not be
underestimated that she had been invited to Laos with the Lao
knowing that the 155 would be an issue. This was an advance.

6. (SBU) Feller said that the Lao told her that a resolution on the
155 must be a win-win solution. She noted that the next Thai-Lao
border committee meeting would occur on May 18. Feller said she
encouraged both sides to solve the issue as a humanitarian gesture
and thought a solution at that time was possible, though not
guaranteed, if the two sides could cast a solution as a bilateral
agreement under the auspices of the bilateral border committee.

7. (SBU) Feller said she was generally surprised at the friendliness
of the Lao reception. The Lao seemed to want to make sure their
position was understood. They also seemed to listen carefully. In
their final exchange, Feller noted that the Lao said they believed
UNHCR understood their position and vice versa. She said she
thought UNHCR's views would be considered during the Thai-Lao border

8. (SBU) On the multilateral proposal recently given to the RTG by
interested governments and the United Nations on the larger issue of
the Hmong in Petchaboon Province, Feller said her RTG interlocutors
said that they accepted that screening of the group must occur. The
wishes of the group had to be ascertained. A solution with Laos
must then be built around those wishes. Feller noted that the
challenge will be the screening criteria and how they are
implemented. Feller said she also told the Thai that in addition to
the Nong Khai and Petchaboon Hmong, there were about another 250
Hmong persons of concern in Bangkok for whom a solution was
necessary. Feller noted that UNHCR last November had stopped
registering Lao-Hmong at RTG request.

9. (SBU) Feller stated that the Lao-Hmong problem led the RTG during
her visit to raise the question of UNHCR's general Refugee Status
Determination (RSD) activities in Thailand. Feller emphasized that
she told the Thai that UNHCR had a mandate given by the
international community to protect refugees and it would carry out
that responsibility as long as it had an office in Thailand. In
response, her RTG interlocutors said that they were considering
whether conditions should be imposed on RSD. They noted that they
were working on a draft Aide Memoire which would be presented to
UNHCR in several weeks. She noted that the Thai asked whether UNHCR
carried out similar activities in other countries, including in the
U.S. along the Mexican border and in southern Europe.

10. (SBU) Comment. All signs continue to be encouraging that the
155 Hmong in Nong Khai will not be sent back to Laos, but it is
still unclear how UNHCR, Thailand, and Laos will work this out with
the resettlement countries. Embassy will be in close contact with
UNHCR and the RTG regarding developments on UNHCR's RSD activities
in Thailand.