*EPF205   04/26/94


(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


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.