Once again, World Refugee Day has arrived with no improvement in Thailand’s abysmal treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Despite having decades of experience hosting millions of refugees, Thailand still has no refugee law or credible national procedures for granting asylum. The result is refugees and asylum seekers are in a precarious state, vulnerable to abuse.
For example, Thai government officials treat all asylum seekers living outside of designated refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border – including those whose refugee claims are recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – as illegal migrants subject to arrest and deportation. This makes it easier for Thailand to return people sought by foreign governments.
In violation of international law and over protests from the UN and a number of other countries, successive Thai governments have forcibly returned refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution or torture. The situation has worsened since Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha took power after a military coup in May 2014.
In the most high-profile cases, Thailand has deported an alleged supporter of the Gülen movement to Turkey in May 2017, two Chinese activists to China in November 2015, and 109 ethnic Uighurs to China in July 2015.
Thai authorities still prevent boats carrying ethnic Rohingya fleeing Burma from landing, instead providing rudimentary assistance before returning them to dangerous seas. Thailand refuses to work with UNHCR to conduct refugee status determination screenings for Rohingya, and many end up in indefinite immigration detention.
Thailand’s immigration detention facilities are severely overcrowded, provide inadequate food, have poor ventilation, and lack access to medical service and other necessities. Not surprisingly, the result has been several deaths among detainees. Many children are unlawfully detained because of their immigration status for months or years.
Thailand should ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and pass refugee legislation consistent with the convention. In cooperation with UNHCR, the government should also establish fair and transparent asylum procedures to ensure that refugee status is open to all nationalities under the same criteria. Finally, Thailand should immediately release UNHCR-recognized refugees and scrap its policy of holding asylum seekers in indefinite detention.