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
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.

Published: January 30, 2020 03:02 AM GMT
Updated: February 03, 2020 06:46 AM GMT

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.


Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Lent is the season during which catechumens make their final preparations to be welcomed into the Church.
Each year during Lent, UCA News presents the stories of people who will join the Church in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The stories of how women and men who will be baptized came to believe in Christ are inspirations for all of us as we prepare to celebrate the Church's chief feast.
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
UCA News

Share your comments

2 Comments on this Story
I was one of two Americans held in that cell. The other one Chad was starved almost to death. They brought him out like a concentration camp victim. There is a cell just behind that one where a blind man from Nigeria has been held for 20+ Years. The guards would shackle left to right. There were no gaurds and the guards would beat the the men in that room including be with bamboo canes and bring them to the VIP cell. You are wrong about the medical treatment because you had to pay for it first. Thank you so much for bringing this to the light of day!
It is a hell overthere ! I have been there for 7 months and just back in the Netherlands !!! Dog's are having a better live then we as human. Food nothing coocked water with rice. That is it !
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia