Press Release

Thailand: One Year After Boat Crisis, Protection Still Lacking for Rohingya Refugees and Human Trafficking Survivors

End Arbitrary and Indefinite Detention, Abolish “Push Back” Policy

(Bangkok, June 8, 2016)—One year after human traffickers abandoned thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis off the coast of Thailand in overcrowded boats, protection concerns for refugees and survivors of trafficking remain, said six national and international organizations today in a public forum held in Bangkok. Thailand should end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of refugees and survivors of human trafficking and abolish its “help-on” policy that puts refugees and trafficking survivors at grave risk.

“If Thailand continues approaching the issue of Rohingya refugees merely in the spirit of protecting the country’s face, its efforts will prove to be meaningless and the problems will persist,” said Papop Siamhan, Anti Trafficking Coordinator at Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF). “The best way to save face is by saving lives.”

On May 1, 2015, Thai officials publicly acknowledged the existence of mass graves containing upwards of 36 bodies believed to be ethnic Rohingya and Bangladeshi victims of human trafficking. In the coming days, more bodies were discovered, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to an emptying of illicit trafficking camps in Thailand and the temporary disruption of trafficking routes and networks, which involved complicit Thai authorities.

Rather than prioritize the protection of individuals held by traffickers, Thailand promptly reinforced its borders and refused to assist or allow the disembarkation of Rohingya and Bangladeshi survivors of trafficking stranded on boats at sea, resulting in an unknown loss of life.

Today, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) hosted a forum on the situation of Rohingya refugees and survivors of human trafficking in Thailand one year on. The event was co-hosted by six organizations: the Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP), the Human Rights and Peace Studies Center at Mahidol University, the Migrant Working Group (MWG), Asylum Access Thailand (AAT), Fortify Rights, and the Human Rights and Development Foundation.

“It’s encouraging that Thailand has taken steps to combat the vast network of human traffickers that have long preyed on the desperation of Rohingya refugees,” said Mr. Siwawong Sukthawee of the Migrant Working Group. “But it’s not enough. Much more needs to be done to protect survivors. In many ways, the crisis continues.”

Since 2012, more than 170,000 mostly Rohingya seeking refuge from systematic abuses and targeted anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar have fled Myanmar and the border areas of Bangladesh by sea, often falling captive to transnational criminal syndicates. These criminal syndicates deprived Rohingya of their liberty, tortured and abused them for profit, and trafficked them through illicit camps in Thailand.

In Thailand, Rohingya survivors who were rescued from traffickers continue to be detained in immigration detention centers (IDC) and government-run shelters. The six organizations, which are working closely with Rohingya communities and monitoring their situation in Thailand, are particularly concerned by the protracted length and potential indefinite detention of Rohingya survivors in Thailand.

International law forbids arbitrary, unlawful, or indefinite detention, including of non-nationals. A state may only restrict the right of liberty of migrants in exceptional cases following a detailed assessment of the individual concerned. Any detention must be necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. Failure to consider less coercive or restrictive means to achieve that aim may also render the detention arbitrary.

On March 15, Thai authorities passed a Cabinet Resolution that, if implemented, would grant formal witness protection to all witnesses in human trafficking trials in Thailand and provide protective legal status for survivors of trafficking. The organizations welcomed the Cabinet Resolution; however, despite subsequent orders by Thailand’s Ministry of Interior to implement its provisions, the Cabinet Resolution has yet to be implemented.

Thailand’s abusive detention policy puts refugees and survivors of trafficking in danger and at heightened risk of being re-trafficked and other abuses, said the organizations.

"The lack of coherent policies and measures to deal with the influx of the Rohingya refugees has led to a situation of indefinite detention. Such a predicament puts refugees at heightened risk as demonstrated by the recent killing of an escaped Rohingya detainee,” said Adisorn Kerdmongkol, Coordinator of the Migrant Working Group. “Until Thailand demonstrates sincerity in addressing the problem, human rights abuses will continue.”

Since December 2015, an estimated 60 Rohingya refugees and trafficking survivors have disappeared from government-run shelters and IDCs in Thailand’s southern provinces. On May 23, 2016, 21 Rohingya refugees escaped from from Phang Nga IDC, according to police. While attempting to re-arrest the group, Thai police shot and shot and killed one Rohingya man. The organizations called upon the government of Thailand to conduct a thorough investigation into the fatal shooting.

Thailand should commit to protecting survivors of human trafficking and refugees, said the six organizations today at the forum. Thailand should take steps to implement the Cabinet Resolution, end indefinite detention, protect witnesses in human trafficking trials, and stop its push-back policy.

“Thailand’s policies and practices towards Rohingya refugees are putting lives at risk and must be addressed immediately,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director, of Fortify Rights. “The Thai government should ensure protection for Rohingya refugees and human trafficking survivors without delay.”

For more information, please contact:

Amy Smith, Executive Director, +66 (0) 87.795.5454,
amy.smith@fortifyrights.org; Twitter: @AmyAlexSmith, @fortifyrights

Papop Siamhan, Anti Trafficking Coordinator at the Human Rights and Development Foundation, +66 (0) 94 548 5306
mthaim420@gmail.com

Siwawong Sukthawee, Migrant Working Group, +66 (0) 81 433 9125,
siwawong@gmail.com

Adisorn Keadmongkol, Migrant Working Group, +66 (0) 89 788 7138,
adisorn.keadmongkol@gmail.com



ABOUT FORTIFY RIGHTS

Fortify Rights works to prevent and remedy human rights violations. We investigate and document abuses, provide customized technical support to human rights defenders, and press for solutions. We are an independent, non-profit, nongovernmental organization based in Southeast Asia and registered in Switzerland and the United States.