Laos Refugees
Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia and one of the last remaining communist nations. The Indochina War, which lasted for over 20 years, displaced about a quarter of the entire population resulting in major refugee migration.

Top 10 Facts about Laos Refugees:

  1. They are ethnically diverse. Laos has approximately 100 ethnic minorities. Many of these groups were cultivators who moved around regularly. They were disproportionately affected by the war.
  2. They come from the most heavily bombed country in the world. Between 1963 and 1974, the United States dropped two million tons of bombs on the Michigan-sized country. This is more than the amount dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II.
  3. They are the victims of a “secret war.” The conflict in Laos was the CIA’s largest paramilitary operation. It was conceived as a way of “bypassing” the Geneva Accords. The Indochina War thus set the precedent for future large-scale secret wars.
  4. Many were first relocated to Thailand. When the U.S. removed military support in May 1975, it transported thousands of refugees into Thailand. By the end of that year, more than 40,000 other refugees had also fled to Thailand.
  5. Some have been living in Thai camps for over a decade. Many have chosen to make Thailand their new home, while some are still waiting for assurance of safety to return to Laos. Others are anticipating a reunion with family members before moving on to finally resettle in another country.
  6. Some were forcibly repatriated to Laos. Thailand began instituting increasingly restrictive measures for people to claim refugee status so that many would be obliged to return to Laos.
  7. They constitute the majority of Hmong refugees in the United States. Many of the Hmong were recruited by the CIA to serve as spies against the communists. As a result, when the communists seized control, many of the Hmong were forced to flee the country for their anti-communist involvement. Approximately 90% of Hmong refugees have resettled in the United States following the Indochina War.
  8. Most speak White or Green Hmong. White Hmong is considered more proper and is the basis for Hmong writing, but it is understood by Green Hmong speakers.
  9. They are traditionally animistic. Hmong religion centers around the Txix neeb or shaman. They believe that the body is home to a number of souls.
  10. Most have resettled in California and the Midwest. Approximately 40% of Hmong refugees are living in California, while another 45% reside in either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

These 10 facts about Laos refugees are a useful starting point for learning about refugees, but every individual has a unique story. Meaningful understanding of Laos refugee problems only comes through building relationships with them.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr