Under the U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, a refugee is defined as a person who is “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted…”
While Thailand is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol and does not formally recognize or have a regulatory framework to manage refugees within its territory, a significant population of refugees, most of whom are from neighboring Myanmar, reside in Thailand. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in addition to the more than 91,000 protracted refugees from Myanmar living in shelters along the Thailand-Myanmar border, more than 23,000 men, women, and children fled to Thailand following the February 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. In addition, there are an estimated 4,800 non-Myanmar refugees in Thailand.
Although the Thai Cabinet approved a resolution in December 2019 to establish a “National Screening Mechanism” (NSM) to identify and potentially protect refugees, the mechanism has yet to be implemented. On March 27, 2023, the Thai Government adopted a “Notification” establishing problematic eligibility criteria that discriminatorily excludes certain applicants from accessing the mechanism. This raises further concern about the effectiveness of the future mechanism. Due to the lack of implementation of proper protections, refugees in Thailand remain at heightened risk of exploitation and abuse.
In addition to documenting the continued arbitrary arrest, detention, and extortion of refugees in Thailand, Fortify Rights also continues to document the forced return or refoulement of refugees and others to Myanmar where torture is likely. Such returns are taking place despite the recent enactment on October 25, 2022 of the anti- torture bill that explicitly prohibits the return of a person to a country where they may face torture.
Recommendations to Ensure Refugee Rights in Thailand
- End the arbitrary arrest and detention of refugees, and release all refugees currently detained solely on the basis of their immigration status.
- Urgently implement screening mechanisms to identify and provide legal status to refugees and prevent refoulements.
- Ensure all individuals with potential protection concerns have access to screening mechanisms to prevent refoulements.
- Enforce all provisions of the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act B.E. 2565, including Section 13 that prohibits the return of a person to a country where they may face torture.