State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Thailand
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||6 July 2011|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Thailand, 6 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e16d35e3e.html [accessed 12 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
In March, April and May 2010, Thailand was rocked by mass protests from the opposition-aligned United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (commonly referred to as the Red Shirts). While peaceful at first, the situation became violent when Thai security forces confronted the protesters; at least 91 people were killed, most of them civilians. Many Red Shirt supporters are disaffected members of ethnic minorities who come from Thailand's rural north and north-east. The Red Shirts had demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit dissolve parliament and hold elections. The Thai leader refused, instead later pledging to hold elections sometime in 2011. Amid the protests, the government enacted emergency powers throughout parts of the country, which critics said violated basic human rights.
Meanwhile, in the country's Muslim-dominated south, tensions continued to simmer between the government and separatist groups. Frequently, it has been civilians that have suffered. In April, six Buddhist villagers in Narathiwat were shot dead by suspected Islamic insurgents. In a bid to restore order to the region in late December, the Thai cabinet lifted a state of emergency in one district in Pattani province. Officials described the move as a 'test case' in the region. But in the same week, a Buddhist man was gunned down while riding his motorcycle to work, while two Muslim men were also shot dead. The deaths added to a toll that has seen more than 4,400 people killed in the region since early 2004. In a September report, HRW warned that the separatist attacks combined with the government's use of schools as military bases are 'greatly harming the education of children'. Bede Sheppard, HRW's senior researcher for children's rights, said, 'Being a teacher in southern Thailand sadly means putting yourself on the front lines of conflict.'
The insurgency and the resulting government crackdowns have thrust added responsibilities onto Muslim women, according to researcher Angkhana Neelapaijit. In environments where it can be unsafe for men to leave the home, women find themselves in the new role of breadwinners and leaders of their families, tasked with advocating for their rights when their husbands cannot or do not.
The year 2010 saw Thailand take a harsh stance against undocumented migrant workers, drawing concern and criticism from rights groups and international observers. Estimates suggest there could be between 1.8 and 3 million migrant workers and accompanying family members in Thailand, mainly from neighbouring Burma, Cambodia and Laos.
Early in the year, the government set a February deadline for some 1.3 million migrants, both legal and undocumented workers, to register under a 'nationality verification process' to remain in the country for two years. Those who did not do so could be deported. Jorge Bustamante, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, warned that the system would place many migrants at risk of suffering human rights violations. Bustamante also warned that there could be some among the potential deportees who qualified for 'international protection'. The statement came less than two months after Thailand controversially deported some 4,000 Hmong refugees to Laos, including 158 who had already been granted refugee status.
Though the mass deportations did not materialize during 2010, authorities nonetheless executed a series of raids that resulted in arrests. Over a ten-day period in June, authorities detained at least 2,200 undocumented migrant workers throughout the country, according to the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF). December raids led to the arrests of more than 1,500 workers.
Amid the arrests, Thai authorities pressed on with further measures to crack down on migrants. In October, according to HRDF, the government announced a plan to set up a 'migrant worker deportation fund', into which migrant workers themselves would be required to pay a portion of their salaries. In early January 2011, the government postponed enforcement of the measure until 2012. Later in October, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva invoked legislation to set up a 'Centre to Suppress, Arrest and Prosecute Alien Workers Working Underground and Human Trafficking Processes'. The centre would be charged with 'drawing up a plan of action for resolving the problem of alien workers working underground in a systematic manner', according to a translated copy of the order.
The government's 2010 measures may be indicative of the contradictory attitude towards migrants among people with power in Thailand, including the military, the police and the media, whereby migrants are recognized as an economic necessity but also as a threat to national security and a drain on essential services. Other critics say Thai migration policy has been a 'failure'.
A scathing report released by HRW in February suggested that migrants face abuse, extortion and rights violations through every aspect of the labour process. Migrants interviewed by HRW researchers claimed to have witnessed beatings of workers in detention, sexual harassment and extortion. Women can face particular hardships. One police informant told HRW he had spoken with several women who had been raped at a particular law enforcement outpost. After a Thai general publicly suggested that migrants found to be pregnant should be deported, migrant women have become less willing to seek medical assistance, HRW noted. 'Migrants suffer silently and rarely complain because they fear retribution, are not proficient enough in the Thai language to protest, or lack faith in Thai institutions that too often turn a blind eye to their plight', the report concluded. Days after the report's release, three children were killed when Thai soldiers opened fire on a pick-up truck carrying undocumented workers from Burma.
In early November, following the Burmese national elections, fighting between Burmese government forces and a faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in the town of Myawaddy sent an estimated 20,000 refugees flooding into Thailand. While most of the refugees returned within days, the situation highlighted the long-standing situation along the Thai-Burmese border, where an estimated 140,000 Burmese refugees and asylum-seekers still live in government-run camps with only basic services, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. On 25 December, Thai authorities returned 166 Burmese nationals who had been seeking protection. Shortly after, the UNHCR issued a statement criticizing the government for what it called the 'hasty manner' in which these and other returns had taken place over the preceding weeks.
In December, Thai authorities arrested a group of 85 Pakistani asylum-seekers belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. Regional rights groups warned that the group could be in danger of deportation back to Pakistan in 2011, where they could face persecution.