ACCESSION NUMBER:341061 FILE ID:EPF205 DATE:04/26/94 TITLE:OAKLEY: NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE OF FORCED REPATRIATION OF HMONG (04/26/94) TEXT:*94042605.EPF *EPF205 04/26/94 OAKLEY: NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE OF FORCED REPATRIATION OF HMONG (Article on 4/26/94 HFAC panel hearing on refugees) (610) By Jane A. Morse USIA Staff Writer Washington -- The State Department has not uncovered any credible evidence to suggest that Hmong refugees now in camps in Hong Kong and Laos are being forcibly repatriated to their native Laos, according to Phyllis Oakley, State's acting director of the Bureau of Refugee Affairs. Oakley testified April 26 before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. In response to questions from the subcommittee, she disputed a Washington Post Op-Ed column written by Jane Hamilton-Merritt that said the State Department supports "the coerced return of refugees." Oakley said "The bottom line is that the United States hasn't seen patterns of coercion, not in an organized way." She acknowledged that "this doesn't mean these things don't happen," but she emphasized that supporting evidence hasn't been found to support coercion charges in cases that the State Department has investigated. In her testimony, Oakley noted that "Our embassy officers in Bangkok periodically check repatriation efforts and have confirmed that those (Hmong and Lao) who apply for repatriation are free to withdraw up until the very last moment should they develop any misgivings. The UNHCR manages the repatriation process and assists and monitors the safety of those who return." Since 1980, nearly 19,000 Lao have been repatriated to Laos, she noted. Oakley acknowledged that the voluntary repatriation to Laos for Hmong "received a setback with the yet unexplained disappearance (in November 1992) of the prominent returned refugee Mr. Vue Mai." But, she added, "The United States government has repeatedly urged the Lao and Thai governments to make every effort to locate Vue Mai and guarantee his welfare. We raised our concerns directly with the foreign minister of Laos during his visit to Washington last year, and the government of Laos reports that its investigation is ongoing." Oakley noted that "according to information we have received, there appears to be no evidence to tie either the Lao governments or elements of Lao resistance forces to the disappearance." Oakley also said that there is no evidence that the Lao communist government has been persecuting Hmong and other Lao who have returned to Laos. The State Department has, however, given the Lao government low grades for 1ts human rights performance, and the Clinton administration did list Laos among those countries that had not satisfactorily work to combat drug trafficking. In response to Subcommittee questions, Oakley noted that opium use screens out refugees from settlement in the United States. Since 1975, 200,000 Lao and Hmong have been resettle in the United States, Oakley said. In the last two fiscal years, just under 7,000 Highland Lao came to the United States each year, and a similar number is expected to be admitted in each of the fiscal years 1994 and 1995. Also testifying at the April 26 hearing was Representative Bruce F. Vento (Democrat of Minnesota). He pointed out that the city of St. Paul, Minnesota is home to more than 11,000 Hmong and 25 percent of the public school students there are Hmong. "We must remain involved and concerned about the Hmong people who paid a very high price for their loyal service to the United States" during the Vietnam War, he said. Vento has written legislation, now pending, which would ease U.S. citizen requirements for the Hmong, along with their spouses, who served along U.S. military forces in the Vietnam War, including those who served in the special guerrilla units formed by the Central Intelligence Agency. NNNN .