The IRC to Help Resettle Hmong Refugees in the United States
The International Rescue Committee is gearing up to assist a new group of Hmong refugees scheduled to be resettled in the United States starting as early as the summer of 2004. The U.S. government recently announced that as many as 15,000 Hmong from Laos now living in a refugee camp in Thailand may be eligible for resettlement in the United States over the next two years.
“We think this is a great opportunity and long overdue for this population,” said Bob Carey, IRC vice president of resettlement. “This is an important chapter in the U.S.’s history of providing new opportunity for refugees in need of resettlement.”
The IRC is reopening an office in Fresno, in California’s Central Valley, where the nation’s largest concentration of Hmong live. According to IRC refugee resettlement processing director Jackie Mize-Baker, probably 60 percent of the Hmong will resettle in California, with the largest concentration in the Central Valley. IRC offices in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento are also expected to assist in the resettlement effort.
“I’m sure it will be a great success, and the Hmong population will add a lot of richness to the communities they will live in. We’re eager to help and assist them,” Carey said.
The IRC was the U.S. government’s designated organization to process the massive numbers of Southeast Asian refugees for resettlement to the United States following the Vietnam War. The IRC also provided refugee services in Hmong, Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee camps, all in Thailand. Between late 1970’s and the mid-1990’s, an estimated 195,000 Hmong refugees were resettled in the United States, primarily in California, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The Hmong, an ethnic group that traditionally lives in the highland areas of Laos, were recruited during the Vietnam War by the U.S. Army to disrupt VietCong supply lines. After Laos fell to the communist Pathet Lao movement, the Hmong found themselves on the wrong side of the new government, and fled to Thailand. The Pathet Lao remain in power today. An estimated 13,000 to 15,000 Laotian Hmong currently reside in a camp-like setting near Wat Thamkrabok in Thailand, north of Bangkok.
Even after the nearly 200,000 were resettled to the U.S., Mize-Baker explained, many thousand more Hmong remained in Thai camps, hoping to return to Laos. “They ultimately wanted to go back to Laos, but now they realize that is not possible,” she said. “The Hmong were fiercely loyal to America, and their service to the U.S. is one of the reasons they can’t go back.”
For arriving refugees in the United States, the IRC provides initial essentials such as food and housing, clothing, transportation, cultural orientation and assistance finding employment. IRC employment staff teach job-readiness skills, practice vocabulary and interview skills with new refugees, identify job openings and accompany refugees on their first job interviews. The IRC operates a network of 22 U.S. regional resettlement offices across the country that provide direct assistance to arriving refugees. Currently, 17 IRC regional offices are accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide immigration services.
In September and October of 2003, an IRC staff delegation went to Thailand to examine the condition of the Hmong, and met refugee community leaders at Wat Thamkrabok. The delegation included Carey; Jane Kim, director, Anti-Trafficking Initiatives; and Susan Donovan, director, of the IRC’s resettlement office in Charlottesville, Virginia. The delegation also met numerous other organizations and individuals, including IRC’s Bangkok staff; urban refugees; UNHCR staff; the U.S. Refugee Coordinator and Refugee Resettlement Unit staff of the U.S. Embassy; staff members of the Department of Homeland Security; staff members of the U.S. Agency for International Development; representatives of the Royal Thai Government National Security Council; the Chief of the Suan Phuang District; the Bangkok Refugee Center; staff from the International Organization for Migration office; refugee committees and section leaders at Tham Hin Camp.
In December, IRC senior resettlement staff met in Washington with House and Senate staff, and representatives of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; the Department of Homeland Security and UNHCR to encourage the government to move expeditiously on the processing of Hmong refugees for U.S. resettlement in FY04. “We found great interest, receptivity and a fairly sizeable attendance of a bi-partisan group of senate staffers,” said Carey. The IRC also recommended establishment of a thorough and targeted cultural orientation program for refugees designated for resettlement, which the U.S. government announced will be conducted by the International Organization for Migration in the Wat camp.
Mize-Baker said this group of Hmong will be better educated than the previous group, and therefore more quickly adaptable to life in the U.S. The Hmong language was only written in the 1950’s, so many Hmong resettled in the 1970’s and 1980’s were illiterate, whereas many Hmong now living in Thai camps have attended Thai schools. In addition, thousands of Hmong who have been resettled in the U.S. will be available to welcome these new arrivals.
Click here for contact information of IRC Resettlement offices expected to resettle Hmong refugees.