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Laos

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions. The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Citizens traveling for religious purposes including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches, with the exception of Buddhist or animist groups, are required to seek permission from central or provincial authorities. In 2015 authorities arrested at least two dozen citizens for traveling from one province to another while promoting Christian beliefs.

Foreign Travel: Citizens seeking to travel to contiguous areas of neighboring countries generally obtained the required permits easily from district offices. Those wishing to travel farther abroad must apply for passports.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government continued to refuse UNHCR’s request to re-establish an in-country presence, which it had in the 1990s, to monitor the reintegration of Hmong returnees from Thailand. The government maintained, however, that UNHCR’s mandate expired in 2001 and all former refugees had successfully reintegrated. The government provided the international community access, albeit controlled, to resettlement villages. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNHCR plans to send an inspection team to visit the country in 2017, because they were unable to schedule a visit during the year due to other obligations.

Authorities reportedly detained refugees recognized by UNHCR, such as Kha Yang after his deportation from Thailand in 2011. Authorities did not acknowledge UNHCR requests for access to him at that time. Kha Yang’s whereabouts remained unknown.

The government’s policy, both for Hmong surrendering internally and for those returned from Thailand, was to return them to their community of origin whenever possible.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The absence of comprehensive and timely monitoring by international organizations and independent observers made it difficult to verify the number and condition of internally displaced persons; their situation, protection, and reintegration; government restrictions on them; and their access to basic services and assistance.

The government continued to relocate some villagers to accommodate land concessions given to development projects and continued to relocate highland farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups, to lowland areas under its plan to provide better access to roads and health and education services, and to end opium production and slash-and-burn agriculture. There were no reports the government forcibly relocated villagers for development purposes; however, there were frequent reports of families displaced by government projects. Although resettlement plans called for compensating farmers for lost land and providing resettlement assistance, in many cases villagers considered the assistance insufficient. Moreover, in some areas farmland allotted to relocated villagers was poor and unsuited for intensive rice farming. The government relied on assistance from NGOs, bilateral donors, and international organizations to cover the needs of those it resettled, but such aid was not available in all areas.

Authorities reportedly also forced a few non-Buddhist minority religious groups from their villages due to local restrictions on religious practices (see section 2.c.).

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum and the protection of stateless persons. The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status, but it dealt pragmatically with individual cases.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future