29 December 2009


There's a giant uproar in the human rights community over the forced repatriation of several thousand Hmong people to Laos from Thailand today.

I find the uproar rather interesting, because it involves the UN and human rights groups saying that the Hmong are refugees fleeing political oppression, while the Thai government says that they are instead "illegal economic migrants".

Setting aside for a second the actual substance of the arguments (and the Thai argument looks pretty weak, as the people were all living in camps on charity and some of them were even recognized by the official UN body as refugees), I find it fascinating that we consider the two so completely different. If you come to my country because you have no food and will starve to death, you are a criminal. If you come to my country because otherwise the government will (wrongly) put a bullet in your head, then we must welcome you with open arms and help you out.

I'm sure someone out there has done a study on this already, but I'd be fascinated to see how these different statuses were constructed.

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