Thailand urged to 'protect' Myanmar refugees

Situation at Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot in Thailand’s Tak province, has raised concerns about future influxes of refugees

UCA News reporter

Updated: April 15, 2024 03:39 AM GMT

Myanmar refugee children cooking at a camp near the Myanmar-Thailand border in Kayin state on Feb. 14, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Thailand government to protect all those fleeing Myanmar as it did in the case of 19 undocumented Myanmar refugee children.

Thai authorities showed sympathy and support by allowing 19 children from Myanmar to remain in Thailand, said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement on April 11.

The government's next step should be to assure all those fleeing Myanmar that they can seek protection in Thailand, she emphasized.

Earlier on March 12, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security took 19 Myanmar children, ages 5 to 17, from Wat Sawang Arom School in Lopburi province in central Thailand.

They were brought without their parents to the border in Chiang Rai province before repatriating them to Myanmar which was criticized by Thai members of parliament, human rights groups, and the National Human Rights Commission.

On March 26, Varawut Silpa-archa, the minister for Social Development and Human Security, said that his agency would not return the 19 children to Myanmar and that they could remain in Thailand, in a press conference, HRW said.

Before Silpa-archa's announcement, the Thai authorities had said that the 19 children were undocumented and were irregularly living in Thailand.

The previous government in July 2023 had used a similar argument to justify sending back 126 undocumented Myanmar children from a school in Ang Thong province, HRW said.

This was despite concerns raised by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and human rights groups, HRW alleged.

HRW urged that Silpa-archa's assurances that these 19 children could remain in Thailand should become Thai government policy for all Myanmar refugees as long as the human rights situation in Myanmar remains dire.

Reportedly, the fighting that has occurred since early April around the Myanmar border town of Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot in Thailand's Tak province, has raised concerns about future influxes of refugees.

On April 9, Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said that Thailand was prepared to receive up to 100,000 refugees temporarily.

Not everyone fleeing conflict and rights abuses in Myanmar has been able to seek protection in Thailand, HRW said.

In late October last year, the Thai military forcibly returned thousands of refugees who had been sheltering in border areas next to Myanmar's Karenni State, HRW pointed out.

Any forced returns to Myanmar may violate Thailand's obligations as a party to the Convention Against Torture and the customary international law principle prohibiting refoulement, HRW said.

Refoulement refers to the forcible return of anyone to a place where they would face a genuine risk of persecution, torture, or other ill-treatment, or a threat to their life.

Reportedly, Myanmar's military junta has conducted a nationwide campaign of mass killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and indiscriminate attacks that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes since the February 2021 coup.

More than 2 million people have been internally displaced, and more than 109,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, HRW said.

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