UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News


Caged like animals: Inside Bangkok's notorious IDC

Photographs show the awful realities of life for detainees whose only 'crime' has been to overstay their visas

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: February 03, 2020 06:46 AM GMT
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Caged like animals: Inside Bangkok's notorious IDC

Gross overcrowding at Bangkok's Immigration Detention Center allows at most a space of one meter by 40 centimeters per person to stretch out and sleep. A facility designed to hold no more than 500 detainees often accommodates up to 1,200.

Share this article :
Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Center (IDC) has long been notorious for the squalid and overcrowded conditions in which inmates — including children, women and the elderly — have been forced to languish for months and even years on end.

Yet surreptitiously taken photographs obtained by UCA News paint an even darker picture of inmates’ plight inside the holding facility. More than 1,000 inmates have been squeezed into tightly packed cells that provide no privacy and barely any room for individual detainees in which to sit, rest and sleep as they await decisions that will decide their fate.

The IDC has been designed to hold no more than 500 detainees at most, yet it usually needs to accommodate up to 1,200. Detainees’ only respite, such as it is, comes for a few hours a day when they are let out from their cramped cells to get some fresh air and much-needed exercise in an outdoor area. Here they have access to a canteen where those fortunate enough to have money sent from the outside can buy food to supplement meager prison rations.

Thai immigration police allow access to only a select few people from the outside and therefore much knowledge of conditions inside rests on the testimonies of former and current detainees. Cameras and phones are strictly prohibited inside the IDC and if any such device is found to have been smuggled in, it is immediately confiscated and its memory is wiped.

One single photo of the IDC’s interior was smuggled out last year and appeared on social media from where it made its way into a major Thai newspaper. These photos given to UCA News and presented here are the largest number of such images ever to be published from inside Bangkok’s IDC.

The images depict the awful realities of life inside for detainees whose only “crime” has been to overstay their visas. Numerous inmates are asylum seekers such as Catholics from Pakistan whose right to refugee status and appropriate treatment has been denied by Thai authorities. Among the other inmates are tourists with invalid passports or expired visas; migrant workers without work permits and official travel documents; and refugees who fled persecution in their countries of origin only to end up incarcerated in Thailand as illegal migrants.

In effect, the IDC is no different from any Thai prison where conditions have long been known to be similarly appalling.

Yesterday the Thai government announced a plan to spend 178 million baht (US$5.7 million) to help ease chronic overcrowding at 93 prisons across the country. According to the plan, a steel mezzanine level will be constructed within existing sleeping quarters in order to create more sleeping spaces for inmates. At present many cells are so overcrowded that inmates need to take turns sleeping in tight rows on the floor while others remain standing, leaning against walls.

It remains uncertain whether the government’s plan to alleviate conditions inside prisons will also extend to conditions in Bangkok’s IDC.

From time to time, Thai authorities, concerned over the country’s image over the horrible state of affairs at the IDC, take steps to improve matters for at least some detainees. Last year in an important decision the Thai government agreed to allow children and their mothers to be bailed from immigration detention centers. This followed a decree by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that no child should be incarcerated at the IDC.

Yet despite this welcome move, as recently as Dec. 19, several children of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers were rounded up and locked up with their parents after a raid on asylum seekers by immigration police. Three of the children were under six years old.

Once inside the detention center, families are broken up with men separated from women. This practice can take a heavy emotional toll on people. Otherwise law-abiding people end up being separated from their loved ones. They are then forced to spend almost all their time in cramped squalor in the company of strangers.

These photographs show the terrible conditions that detainees are forced to endure at the IDC:

Many inmates are Muslims as can be seen in this shot where most of those pictured are from Bangladesh.

Little wonder that the IDC breeds diseases easily communicated in the facility — tuberculosis, flu and other infections that humans pass to each other.

Treatment at the IDC is indiscriminate and the same for children.

There is a long line to the doctor at the IDC but some detainees do get treatment even if hospitalization is delivered with them bound and shackled. In the eyes of Thai immigration police, detainees are criminals even though their offenses are never more than a visa overstay.

Despite a directive by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that no children should be held in the IDC, immigration police lock up children as young as four and cramp them together with their mothers and siblings.

Not caged animals but human beings treated and contained as if they were wild animals.


Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
UCA Newsletter
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter

Also Read

UCA News Podcast
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution