Letter to Prime Minister Prayut recommends Thailand protect potential new refugee arrivals

(BANGKOK, September 26, 2017)—Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should urgently engage Myanmar’s civilian and military leadership on ending ongoing attacks on Rohingya Muslim civilians in northern Rakhine State, Fortify Rights said today in an open letter to the Prime Minister. Fortify Rights also recommended that Thailand directly assist refugees in line with international law.

“As a longtime host to Myanmar’s refugees, Thailand should be concerned about the renewed military attacks against civilians in Myanmar and its potential regional impacts,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Prime Minister Prayut needs to speak up now to stop the atrocity crimes taking place next door.”

In response to the killing of 12 officials by Rohingya militants on August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military, supported by armed civilians, initiated violent attacks on Rohingya villages throughout northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. Myanmar state security forces killed, raped, and tortured civilians and destroyed entire villages, forcing more than 400,000 Rohingya to flee the country.

Prayut reportedly affirmed Thailand’s commitment to a non-interference approach with regard to Myanmar’s domestic affairs during a meeting on August 30 with Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Referencing potential new refugee flows into Thailand, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan reportedly suggested that Rohingya “might not be able to take boat trips to land in Thailand.” For refugees that do attempt to enter the country, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and Navy recently restated Thailand’s commitment to enforce its “push-back” policy to intercept and prevent refugees from entering and remaining in Thailand.

ISOC spokesperson Colonel Peerawat Saengthong also reportedly told the news outlet Khaosod English, “if [Rohingya] are discovered on shore, we will detain them.” 

Thailand’s “help-on” or “push-back” policy put thousands of lives at risk during previous refugee crises by pushing ill-equipped boats of migrants, including refugees and survivors of human trafficking, back out to sea, in some cases after providing minimal supplies of food and water. Thailand also continues to indefinitely detain some 121 Rohingya refugees in government-run shelters.

Under customary international law, the principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from returning any person on its territory or under its jurisdiction to a country where they may face persecution. Thailand’s “push-back” policy violates this principle. The right to liberty is also protected by customary international law as well as Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party. This right extends to migrants, who may be detained only in exceptional circumstances and in accordance with international law.

In its letter to Prayut, Fortify Rights called on Thailand to protect the right to asylum and prevent the forced return of refugees at risk of persecution. Fortify Rights also called on Thailand to end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of all migrants, including refugees.

“This is not the time for Thailand to rest on its laurels. Myanmar’s attacks against the Rohingya will impact the entire region, including Thailand,” said Amy Smith. “Thailand’s leaders should be doing all they can to stem the violence in Myanmar and prepare to provide protection to refugees fleeing the attacks.”

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