New hope for refugees in Thailand | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 09.06.2011
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New hope for refugees in Thailand

This week, 90 Ahmadi Muslim refugees from Pakistan were released from an immigration detention center in Bangkok. The event marked a new program of cooperation allowing the legal processing of refugees without detention.

Myanmar refugees make their way home from Thailand

Myanmar refugees make their way home from Thailand

Under cloudy monsoon skies the 96 Pakistan Ahmadi Muslim refugees made their way to buses to be taken to apartments in Bangkok where they will wait for their visas for the United States to be processed, which may take up to 12 months.

The group includes 34 children under the age of 12. They had been held for six months at the immigration detention centre in central Bangkok where one woman gave birth during her detention. The Ahmadiya had fled persecution, threats of violence and death in Pakistan, where they are officially forbidden from practising their Muslim faith.

A good day

For one Ahmadi man it was a good day: "Yes sir, a very good day; really happy. Thanks for Immigration. Everybody thank you." The release came with the help of a Thai non-government organization, the Thai Committee for Refugees that provided the US$166,600 bail bond by a recently launched Refugee Freedom Fund. The funds largely came from the Ahmidya community. The group’s release followed cooperation between Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission and immigration authorities.

Karen refugees sit on a porch at a refugee camp in western Thailand

Karen refugees sit on a porch at a refugee camp in western Thailand

Dr. Amara Pongsapich, National Human Rights Commission chairperson, says the release of such a large group was a new step in Thailand. HESHEIT says it is "a good turning point," adding, "It shows that the collaboration between the Immigration Office and our office National Human Rights Commission is fruitful. We reached an agreement. We are satisfied. We feel that at least we have found an alternative to them being detained here."

Not enough

But United Nations High Commission for Refugees regional spokesperson, Kitty McKinsey, says more needs to be done to aid others at the centre without support. SHEXXX says the issue in Thailand, as in many Asian countries, is that there is no asylum law. Thus "refugees are subject to arrest prosecution, detention and deportation under immigration law." Mc Kinsey adds, "The refugees in this detention centre where we are standing right now have been here for five years or even as many as nine years and that is just inhumane."

At the centre a group of 44 men from Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslim community have been held for two years. The Rohingya are not accorded state recognition by the Myanmar Government. Another is a group of 220 Sri Lankan Tamils arrested last year in Bangkok after an earlier vessel of Tamils bound for Canada was stopped by Canadian authorities.

A Thai policewomen holds a child while escorting Hmong asylum seekers from a refugee camp in Thailand

A Thai policewomen holds a child while escorting Hmong asylum seekers from a refugee camp in Thailand


Anoop Sukumaran, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network coordinator, says aiding the Rohingya remains a challenge. No third country is willing to accept them as refugees. He says getting them out on bail is often no solution, as they are regarded as stateless persons. Furthermore, Sukumaran accused Canadian authorities of forcing Thailand to take "punitive steps" that prevent the Tamils reaching Canadian shores where they would have been accorded refugee status. He says, though the Canadian government had said that "this was to prevent people smuggling, it’s appalling to us that the victims of people smuggling are being further victimised."

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission and Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and Thai rights groups are looking into how to assist stateless refugees in the hope of seeing more released from detention.

Author: Ron Corben
Editor: Sarah Berning

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