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Thailand gets tough on Myanmar asylum seekers

Authorities intensify border controls to stop Myanmar nationals entering illegally following the coup

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: March 07, 2021 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: March 08, 2021 04:41 AM GMT

Thailand gets tough on Myanmar asylum seekers

Myanmar migrants in Thailand hold up pictures of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a protest against the military coup in front of the United Nations ESCAP building in Bangkok on March 7. (Photo: AFP)

Thai authorities are refusing to grant asylum to people from Myanmar fleeing their conflict-torn nation through stepped-up patrols along the two countries’ long and porous border.

In the latest incident, police in the Thai province of Kanchanaburi detained 33 Myanmar nationals who had entered the country illegally last week.

The migrants, including nine Rohingya people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, as well as a three-year-old girl and an 11-month-old baby, were discovered in a forest where they had sought refuge.

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The asylum seekers had reportedly paid smugglers to take them to Thailand from where the nine Rohingya Muslim refugees were planning to head down south and cross over into Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation that is a popular destination for stateless Rohingya asylum seekers.

Thailand does not recognize the right of stateless Rohingya to refugee status and routinely detains them in overcrowded immigration detention centers.

One of the 33 migrants told police that a broker in Myanmar had promised to find them jobs in Thailand and arranged for local guides to help them cross the border through a clearing in a forest.

In the forest the guides left with the promise that a van would arrive to pick them up, but no one came for two nights, which indicated the migrants had been abandoned to their fate.

They were discovered after locals tipped police off about their presence in the forest, where the migrants were reportedly dehydrated and going without food.

All the migrants were taken to a hospital for checks before they were taken to a police station where they were charged with entering Thailand illegally and will likely be deported.

The plight of these 33 people from Myanmar is yet another indication of the desperation many citizens in the war-torn country feel after their economic prospects have been severely limited back home by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as severe repression in the wake of a military coup last month.

In recent weeks and months, numerous migrants from Myanmar have been smuggled into Thailand by unscrupulous people traffickers and left to their fate after crossing the border.

Migrants from Myanmar are widely seen as unwelcome in Thailand, where authorities have repeatedly blamed them for the second wave of the coronavirus by accusing them of bringing the virus in by evading disease control measures.

As protests in Myanmar have been picking up steam against the military, which seized power in a coup last month, Thai authorities have intensified border controls even further to stop Myanmar nationals entering illegally.

Thailand has closed several border crossings with Myanmar and stepped up border patrols for fear that a flood of asylum seekers might try to enter.

The chief of Thailand’s immigration police, Sompong Chingduang, said last week that as many as 400,000 Myanmar nationals might try to enter Thailand in order to escape a state of emergency back home and the military’s bloody crackdown on anti-junta protesters.   

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