Hmong Protestants still leaving Vietnam's northern mountains
DATELINE: HANOI, May 6, 2002 Monday
Protestant Christians among the
Hmong people of Vietnam's northern mountains are still leaving for the central
highlands, despite a year-old wave of repression there which rights groups say
has targetted minority Protestants.
In the single highland province of Dak Lak, nearly 3,000 new
Hmong migrants were recorded in the first quarter alone, the head of the province's
New Economic Zones department Vo Van Tam told AFP.
Hmong from the northern mountains made up nearly 90 percent of a total of 3,293
"free" migrants who were known to have moved to the province without government
backing over the period.
A total of 1,135 had come from the mountain province of Lai Chau, 393 from Cao
Bang, and the rest from Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang and Bac Can provinces.
Tam confirmed that all of the Hmong migrants were Protestant converts, but
insisted land hunger rather than religious persecution had sparked their
departure from their traditional homeland.
"We are afraid that more Hmong migrants will come in the coming months -- most
of the migrants told us they had moved to Dak Lak because they didn't have any
land to farm in the north."
Foreign-based evangelist organisations say Hmong Protestant have been fleeing
Vietnam's northern provinces in large numbers since at least 1999 after a
series of mass conversions among the traditionally pagan hill people aroused
the hostility of communist authorities.
But in recent months the treatment of Protestant converts among the indigenous
minorities of the central highlands has come in for even greater criticism from
An army crackdown on hill tribe protests across the highlands in February last
year sparked a wave of repression which had systematically targetted the 40
percent of highlanders who were Protestant Christians, Human Rights Watch said
The authorities had resorted to church-burnings, arbitrary arrest and torture,
and organized mock pagan ceremonies at which believers were pressured to
publicly renounce their faith, the New York-based watchdog said.
Tam said new homes had been found for 1,800 of the Hmong migrants in an army
project clearing land for cash crops. The Nong Nghiep Viet Nam (Vietnam
Agriculture) newspaper named the unit as Batallion 16 in Quang Tin commune.
Nearly 400 non-Hmong migrants, who refused to participate in the same
military-run scheme, were forcibly returned to their original homes in Thanh
Hoa province on the north-central coast.
A further 1,053 Hmong have yet to be found new homes as the cash-strapped
authorities have run out of budget.
"So far this year, we've had just 16 billion dong (a little over a million
dollars) from the central government to cope with free immigration, but it's
not been enough," said Tam.
"We need another 10 billion dong (670,000 dollars) to deal with this problem and
settle people down."
In the first three months of the year, another 150 ethnic Vietnamese families,
or some 750 people, were moved to Dak Lak from the northern Red River delta
under government-sponsored migration schemes, Tan added.
It is part of a huge migrant wave which has seen the indigenous highlanders
reduced to a minority in all four highlands provinces over the past quarter