ucanews.com reporter, BangkokUpdated: November 06, 2018 08:54 AM GMT
This photo taken on Nov. 3 shows passports of family members of Pakistani-Christian refugees seeking refuge in a small apartment in a Bangkok suburb after fleeing persecution in Pakistan. They fear arrest by Thai authorities for overstaying. (Photo by Aidan Jones/AFP)
Thailand should ensure recently arrested Pakistani asylum seekers are not returned to face persecution, torture, or other serious abuse in Pakistan, a leading international rights group said Nov. 6 in a letter to the Thai prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha.
Almost all of the dozens of detained asylum seekers are from Christian and Ahmadiyya communities that have been prosecuted under discriminatory laws or attacked by religious extremists in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said.
It called for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to have constant and unimpeded access to the asylum seekers to help ensure that no one is deported to a place where their lives or freedom are threatened.
"The Thai government may not fully appreciate the grave dangers facing Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis back in Pakistan," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"It's critically important for Thai authorities to free Pakistanis recognized as refugees from detention and not to return any into harm's way in violation of international law."
Pakistani refugees and asylum seekers have been targeted for arrest and prosecution for illegal entry or visa overstays as a part of a Thai immigration crackdown called Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner in which thousands of people have been detained.
In a number of instances, immigration raids have targeted buildings where Pakistani and other South Asian community members live.
The rights group did not want to see a repeat of Thailand's decision to fly nearly 100 Uyghur Muslims back to China in 2015, in the face of warnings they would face persecution and abuse.
At the time the UNHCR said it was given assurances by Thai authorities that the Uyghurs would be protected.
Thai authorities should not detain recognized refugees under any circumstances, Human Rights Watch said in the letter.
The authorities should recognize the critical importance of careful case-by-case consideration of asylum claims and abide by UNHCR determinations to ensure respect for the principle of nonrefoulement.
They should also ensure compliance with Thailand's obligations under the U.N. Convention against Torture, the letter added.