U.N. Refugee High Commissioner to meet Thai Prime Minister

(Bangkok, July 6, 2017)–The Government of Thailand should stop detaining and forcibly returning refugees to situations of potential harm, Fortify Rights said today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi will meet Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha tomorrow in Bangkok to discuss the situation of refugees in Thailand.

“Refugees face a litany of abuse in Thailand, and it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Ongoing violations against refugees are an unnecessary blight on Thailand, and we hope the High Commissioner’s visit can elicit some positive action.”

Today, Fortify Rights and 12 organizations issued a statement calling on Thailand “to demonstrate its commitment to protect refugees by ending abusive practices as well as instituting and implementing laws that guarantee the rights of refugees in Thailand.” In particular, the organizations called for the Thai government to end the forced return of refugees and the arbitrary detention of refugees in Thailand as well as provide access to legal status, labor protections, educational opportunities, and other forms of assistance.

Thailand hosts more than 100,000 refugees, most of whom are protracted refugees from Myanmar living in temporary shelters along the Thailand-Myanmar border as well as “urban refugees” from various countries living in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. These refugees lack formal legal status in Thailand and are at risk of arbitrary detention and being forcibly returned to countries where they may face persecution.

On July 7, Filippo Grandi, the head of UNHCR—the U.N. agency mandated to protect refugees—is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. This is the first time in five years that a Refugee High Commissioner has visited Thailand.

“Refugees have rights to genuine and consistent protections and it’s incumbent on the authorities here to protect those rights,” said Amy Smith. “Despite being a long-time host to refugee communities, Thailand has failed to provide refugees with full or consistent protections. Without adequate protections, refugees are at a heightened risk of serious human rights violations in Thailand.”

Although Thailand lacks a legal framework to assess asylum claims, the government is taking steps to establish a refugee-screening mechanism. Cabinet Resolution 10/01, B.E. 2560 issued on January 10 called for the creation of a “Committee for the Management of Undocumented Migrants and Refugees.” The Committee will be responsible for developing criteria and methods to identify and manage undocumented migrants and refugees.

On June 30, Fortify Rights sent a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha providing specific recommendations for the Committee to ensure it institutes mechanisms that facilitate the right to asylum and prioritizes the protection of refugees and migrants in line with international standards.

In the joint statement issued today, the organizations also called on the Thai government to “work closely with UNHCR, civil society, and refugees to develop a full, effective, and fair procedure to evaluate claims for refugee status and protection.”

“The screening mechanism presents an opportunity to improve refugee protections and address long-standing refugee rights concerns in Thailand,” said Amy Smith. “The Thai government needs to not only recognize refugees living here but also to respect their rights.”

In March, Fortify Rights published A Work in Progress: Thailand’s Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a report highlighting Thailand’s failure to uphold its legal obligations to protect refugees. Fortify Rights documented the mass indefinite detention of Rohingya refugees in Thailand as well as other serious human rights violations, including the forced return of Rohingya from Myanmar and Lao Hmong from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic—violations that contravene customary international law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.

During the U.N. Human Rights Committee review of Thailand’s obligations as a party to the ICCPR, the Thai government confirmed that it continues to confine 121 Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine State and Bangladesh to government-run shelters. In March 2015, Fortify Rights documented Thailand’s failure to meet its duty of care for Rohingya detained in detention centers and shelters in Thailand.

Today’s statement also called on Thailand to “end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in immigration detention centers and government-run shelters.”

“Refugees should never be detained just for being refugees,” said Amy Smith. “Arbitrarily detaining someone, even in a shelter, constitutes a violation of the right to liberty. The Thai government should immediately release Rohingya and other refugees who remain detained here.”

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