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Estimate of Hmong influx triples to about 5,000

Associated Press

ST. PAUL - The estimated number of Hmong refugees from Thailand bound for Minnesota has tripled to about 5,000 by year's end, a U.S. State Department official said.

The new estimate would be more than triple the January estimate of about 1,600 refugees, based on patterns from past resettlement programs. This time, interest in resettlement in Minnesota is much greater, and the approval rate for those applying to resettle has been high. A third of those interviewed through Monday - 2,489 of 7,983 refugees - have expressed interest in resettling in Minnesota based on family ties here, Yvonne Thayer, a senior adviser in the State Department said Wednesday.

"That's been consistent through the prescreening," Thayer said of the level of interest in Minnesota. "Of course, that could change. But if it doesn't, Minnesota could be seeing as many as 5,000 refugees coming here."

About 15,550 refugees at the Wat Tham Krabok camp north of Bangkok are eligible for resettlement in the United States and are expected to begin arriving in late June or early July.

Thayer spoke during a forum on the resettlement at Concordia University attended by 75 people, mostly officials of state, local and nonprofit agencies that assist refugees.

The number of refugees coming to Minnesota could equal those going to California, the desired destination of a third of the refugees interviewed so far, Thayer said. About 1,600 want to go to Wisconsin, while smaller numbers have indicated they would go to North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan, Oregon and Washington state.

Interviews with the remaining refugees, living in a crowded shantytown on the grounds of the Wat Tham Krabok temple should be done the week of June 21. Refugees also are undergoing medical exams and security checks and will take part in a weeklong cultural orientation program that begins next month.

Officials have booked 6,122 seats for refugees to travel to the United States, Thayer said. The first several hundred should reach the United States in late June. An estimated 1,000 to 1,200 will come in July, with 2,000 each in September and August and 3,000 a month through the end of the year.  The goal of both U.S. and Thai officials is to have all the refugees out of camp by the end of December so it can close.

Officials decided last week to have every refugee vaccinated against a battery of infectious diseases, Thayer said. Medical records are incomplete and basic medical care has been spotty, and an outbreak of 17 cases of chickenpox, mostly among children, in the past five or six weeks raised concerns. Officials hope to complete the vaccinations by the beginning of June. The shots will cost $365,000.

"This is very unusual and it's very costly, but it's being done to ensure that we don't have any epidemic that might slow down the movement of this population," Thayer said. "This is something we can contribute to the receiving host community. It's one less concern when registering children for school."


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,