By WASAMON AUDJARINT
EVEN AS THAILAND promised to continue providing protection to more than 102,000 refugees in the country, human rights activists and advocates urged the Thai government to live up to that commitment, including ending detentions and the forcible return of refugees.
At Government House yesterday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha held discussions with Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during his visit to the Asia Pacific.
“Thailand has taken care of refugees well,” Prayut was quoted as telling Grandi, by Deputy Government Spokesperson Lt-General Werachon Sukhondhapatipak. “We have provided education, public health, basic needs, logistics and temporary shelters,” Prayut told Grandi.
Prayut also thanked the UNHCR for cooperation over its treatment of refugees from CLMV countries. Last October, he said, they had succeeded in voluntarily repatriating 71 Myanmar refugees to their home country.
“Thailand emphasises good management and precautionary measures and prevention from the countries of origin,” the premier said.
“Receiving countries should provide humanitarian aid while destination countries should increase assistance for countries of the first two categories.” he said.
Grandi appreciated Thailand’s treatment of refugees, especially children, Werachon added.
Grandi’s trip to Thailand, the first visit in five years by a High Commissioner, took place a day after rights organisations published a joint statement.
The statement was signed by 13 non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, and International Federation for Human Rights.
Refoulement, arbitrary and indefinite detention, access to legal status, lack of access to livelihoods and labour protection and to education were among concerns raised in the statement.
It said that while Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, the Kingdom itself has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to protecting refugees and irregular migrants as well as humanitarianism.
“These commitments are noteworthy and appreciated. However, we remain concerned by the lack of progress in implementing these commitments and addressing serious and ongoing human rights violations affecting the situation of refugees in Thailand,” the statement read.
Thailand has appeared to forcibly return refugees and asylum seekers based on requests of foreign governments despite the credible risk of torture or other rights abuses, the statement said.
Among cases cited was the transfer of M Furkan Sukmen, a Turkish national with alleged links to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, to the custody of Turkish authorities in May, despite a warning by the UN agencies that he would face rights violations if returned.
In 2015, Thailand also returned around 100 Uighurs back to China.
“The Uighurs returned to China are known to have faced persecution,” the statement said.
The government should also discontinue its “help-on” or “push-back” policy under which Thai authorities intercept and tow ill-equipped boats of people out to sea. “These policies and practices contravene the legally binding principle of non-refoulement [stated in the UN Convention],” the statement said.
To realise the commitments, Thailand should prevent the refoulement of refugees, end their arbitrary and indefinite detention, engage more civil-based organisations, including the UNHCR, before voluntary return programmes or asylums are carried out and treat them in a transparent manner, and ensure their access to basic needs, the agencies said.
Grandi, meanwhile, said that he did raise concerns about detention with the Thai PM during yesterday’s meeting.
“He has tried to eliminate detention against children refugee and it was a good start,” Grandi said following the press briefing “The UNHCR also advised the government to eradicate all detentions. The work is ongoing.”
Prior to meeting with Thai authorities, including those from the Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry and National Security Council, Grandi also met with urban refugees residing in Bangkok. He was due to head next to Bangladesh on Saturday.
Details of his meeting with refugees were kept programmes or asylums are carried out and treat them in a confidential, however, due to the sensitivity of the refugees’ status.