Rohingya women and children at a center in Phang Nga, Thailand. Picture: Human Rights Watch
Thailand detains thousands of refugee and migrant children each year in squalid conditions, separating them from their families and exposing the children to violence and harm, Human Rights Watch said.
The rights group called on Thailand to stop holding children in overcrowded and poorly managed detention centers, setting up instead a shelter system that would allow children to remain with their families and give them better access to health care and education services.
“Conditions in Thailand's immigration detention centers fall far below international standards,” said Alice Farmer, children's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.
She said Thailand routinely detains children “for months, even years,” holding them in filthy, overcrowded cells, leaving detainees little room to lie down for sleep. “One family we met with, the girls would sit up against each other to sleep,” she said.
Farmer made her remarks in Bangkok on Tuesday where Human Rights Watch released its 67-page report, Two Years With No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand, the result of an 18-month investigation.
Farmer estimated that Thailand holds about 100-200 refugee children in long-term detention, while another 4,000-5,000 migrant children pass through immigration detention centers each year, with ages ranging from newborns to 17-years-old. She said pregnant detainees are taken to the hospital to give birth and then returned to detention three days later with their newborn child.
Human Rights Watch said Thailand detains refugees and migrants indefinitely “without recourse to judicial review … which is prohibited under international law”. The report also said that children are routinely held with unrelated adults – also a violation of international law.
“Immigration detention, particularly when arbitrary or indefinite, can be brutal for even resilient adults. But the potential mental and physical damage to children, who are still growing, is particularly great,” the report said.
Farmer said Thailand should open a shelter system that kept families together and would provide a safe, nurturing environment for children. “Immigration detention centers are no place for children,” she said.
In the meantime, she “urgently recommended improving conditions” in the detention centers.
Farmer praised the various nongovernmental organizations providing assistance to the detainees, but said Thailand's immigration bureau often restricts access to them.
“There's a sense that if you speak out, you will be punished. The fact that access can be cut off is one of the reasons that keeps organizations from speaking out,” she said.
Christopher Eades, director of Legal Services at Jesuit Refugee Service in Bangkok, told reporters that JRS was “ejected” from providing services in detention centers after the agency tried to discipline an employee in Bangkok's detention center.
The center's superintendent ordered that the employee, a Thai citizen, had to be reinstated and that JRS could no longer work there. In addition, the 25 refugees that JRS had helped release through Thailand's bail system, had to return to detention.
Eades told ucanews.com that no other NGO is currently offering legal services to detainees.