“Black Halloween” crackdown and other raids result in arrest of 19 children

(BANGKOK, November 6, 2017)—Thai authorities should release 35 asylum seekers from Pakistan and Somalia held in immigration detention following recent raids in Bangkok, said Fortify Rights today. At least 19 children were among those arrested in the raids, six of whom are still in detention.

“Thai authorities are trampling on the rights of asylum seekers,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries shouldn’t experience further violations in Thailand. Thailand should respect the rights of those in need of protection, including asylum seekers and children.”

On October 30, Thai police raided homes in the Phet Kasem area of Bangkok and arrested 22 Pakistani asylum seekers, including nine women and six children under the age of 10. Those arrested all hold documents issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), identifying them as “persons of concern.”

The authorities detained the 22 Pakistani men, women, and children overnight at the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center (IDC). The following day, the police released the children to parents or relatives in their community and brought the adults to court. The Taling Chan Provincial Court charged 15 of the adults for overstaying their visas and one adult with unauthorized entry into the country. Their applications for bail are currently pending.

On October 31, the Royal Thai Police and the Department of Immigration conducted further immigration raids in 41 locations in Bangkok as part of a joint operation dubbed by the authorities as operation “Black Halloween.” During these raids, the authorities arrested another 21 Somali asylum seekers, including eight children, some of whom were unaccompanied. Most of those arrested hold UNHCR documents. 

The authorities released four children, including an infant, and five adults on the same day. The other 12 asylum seekers, including four unaccompanied children, were sent to the Suan Phlu IDC. On November 2, the Phra Nakhon Nuea Court fined the eight adults for alleged violations of the Immigration Act and returned them to the Suan Phlu IDC, where they await bail. The four unaccompanied children have yet to be charged and remain detained at the Suan Phlu IDC.

Previously, on October 21, the authorities arrested seven Somali asylum seekers with UNHCR documents, including five children and two women—from the Srinakarin area of Bangkok. They are now detained at the Suan Phlu IDC.

The mother of an 11-year-old Somali boy arrested on October 31 told Fortify Rights: “I witnessed the killing of my husband and the rest of my children [back in Somalia], but I managed to survive. My son is the last of my family. He is everything to me.”

Customary international law and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party, forbids arbitrary, unlawful, or indefinite detention, including of non-nationals. A state may only restrict the right to liberty of asylum seekers in exceptional cases following a detailed assessment of the individual concerned and after alternatives to detention have been exhausted. Refugees and children should never be detained based on their immigration status alone.

During its review of Thailand’s obligations with the ICCPR in March 2017, the U.N. Human Rights Committee raised concerns with Thailand’s indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers and recommended that the Thai authorities “refrain from detaining refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and implement alternatives to detention, including before deportation.”

In a speech at the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on September 20, 2016 in New York, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha committed to ending the detention of refugee children in Thailand and to establishing an effective refugee-screening mechanism. On January 10, 2017, the Thai government passed Cabinet Resolution No. 10/01 B.E. 2560 providing for the establishment of a “Committee for the Management of Undocumented Migrants and Refugees” to develop criteria and methods to identify and manage undocumented migrants and refugees. However, the Thai government has not yet established structures to recognize refugees and asylum seekers continue to lack protections in Thailand.

Thailand is also a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which provides minimum standards to ensure the protection, survival, and development of all children without discrimination. Article 37 of the CRC prohibits the unlawful or arbitrary detention of children and provides that the arrest and detention of children should be used “only as a measure of law resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

The Government of Thailand should end the arbitrary detention of refugees and asylum seekers and immediately release all asylum seekers from detention. Thai authorities should also work together with civil society and affected communities to develop full, effective, and fair asylum procedures in line with international law.

“This latest raid and mass arrest of asylum seekers runs counter to Thailand’s international obligations and undermines steps towards preventing abusive forms of detention,” says Amy Smith. “Instead of detaining asylum seekers and children, Thai authorities should be protecting them.”

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