What Happened To The Hmong After The Vietnam War?

Collage of Hmong Pictures During Vietnam War

You can’t think about the Vietnam war without thinking about the Hmong who helped, fought, and died alongside the American Soldiers. These Hmong were located mainly in Laos.

When the Vietnam War ended, the Hmong in Laos was in a terrible position; the Hmong fighters were enemies of the present Laotian government and considered “persona non gratis.” Some were forced into labor camps or kicked out of their home and lands. The Hmong made their way eventually to the Laotian – Thai border so they could try to get into the United States via Thailand.

When we speak about the Hmong who suffered after the Vietnam War, we need to talk about Laotian Hmong. There are still Hmong in Vietnam, Laos, China, Thailand, and Myanmar. Not all these groups were affected by the Vietnam war as much as the Hmong in Laos were affected.

Laotian Hmong and the Vietnam War

The Hmong in Laos was in a terrible state after the Vietnam war. The North Vietnamese bombed their villages, and the new Laotian communist regime government saw the Hmong as enemies of the state. Many Laotian Hmong became refugees in their own country.

The war destroyed the livestock and lands of the Hmong. The U.S. sponsored some food drops of fifty tons of rice a day – this amount of rice would feed about 100,000 Hmong. But dropping food so people could survive was not a long-term solution for anyone.

AirDrop of Supplies to Sustain The Needs of Hmong

In February 1973, the Vientiane Agreement was signed, which called for a cease-fire in Lao and a coalition government; this also ended the U.S. air support. At this time, the American relief programs also ceased, and the new Laotian regime considered the Hmong as enemies of the state.

About 1,000 to 3,000 Hmong of mainly the high-ranking army officers, the U.S. helped airlift them and their families to Thailand. But thousands more who had helped fight with the Americans or remained neutral were left behind in a ravaged country controlled by the North Vietnamese.

Many Hmong were also forcibly relocated to lowland areas of Laos and forced to work in state-owned collective farms. Others were forced into “seminar camps” where they were forced to labor and undergo political indoctrination.

Many of the Hmong feared retribution, famine, and even death. Because they feared for their lives, they chose to make the hazardous journey to Thailand on foot, hiding in the jungles and walking mainly at night to cross the Mekong River, which borders Laos and Thailand.

Many Hmong died from disease, starvation, exposure, and even drowning during this journey to Thailand.

Hmong and Refugee Camps

Once the Hmong arrived in Thailand, they were placed into refugee camps located along the Thai/Laotian border. The main camp was Ban Vinai. These make-shift camps had no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal and were significantly overcrowded. The conditions at this camp were not easy.

In 1986, at the peak of the Ban Vinai camp, the camp had almost 43,000 residents. About 90% of those were Hmong. In 1992 the Thai government closed the camp.

Hmong and The US Immgration

Because many of the Hmong had U.S. military ties, many immigrated to the United States. The Hmong and Laotians who were higher educated were allowed to leave for the United States first, with the others waiting behind.

Over the years the U.S., Government allowed about 200,000 Hmong to come to the United States; many Hmong now reside in the U.S. states of Minnesota, California, and Wisconsin.

For many Hmong, the adjustment to America has not been easy. They had to leave behind their country, culture, and way of life.

The Hmong In Laos, CIA And Vietnam War

When you talk about the Hmong and the Vietnam war, you need to talk about Laos. In 1963 of the 300,000 Hmong living in Laos, more than 19,000 men were eventually recruited into the CIA by the United States government.

The CIA recruited the Hmong men as a particular gorilla unit or SGU; other Laotians enlisted in the Laotian royal Armed Forces. Each soldier was paid an equivalent of about three dollars a month. To help supplement these fighters, the CIA would also drop food and help to build schools throughout the region.

By 1968 nearly 40,000 Hmong troops were fighting, with this number ever-growing. At first, the army was made up of men, but younger boys joined the effort t as the war grew and the deaths mounted.

The main goals for this group of Hmong soldiers included:

  • To guide U.S. booming missions
  • To rescue the downed U.S. Pilots.
  • To block the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

In some Hmong villages, the U.S. set up some radar systems to help track the U.S. planes flying into North Vietnam. The Hmong troops manned these radars.

These Hmong fighters and soldiers deserve our respect; they gave up their lives, homes, and families during the Vietnam War. The Hmong lost their country, culture, lands, and way of life in the process.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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What Happened To The Hmong After The Vietnam War?