Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Thailand

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2005
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Thailand , 20 June 2005, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Refoulement/Asylum  Thailand refouled dozens of recognized refugees, including children, who had documentation from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), notwithstanding UNHCR's attempts to stop their deportation. Some were deported before they could contact UNHCR, despite the fact that they told Thai authorities of their fear of persecution. In other cases, authorities destroyed UNHCR documents. In July, Thailand deported 16 Laotian asylum seekers convicted of illegal immigration and weapons charges without allowing UNHCR to speak to them to assess their claims.

Thailand had no refugee legislation and did not recognize refugee status, rendering virtually all refugees and asylum seekers illegal aliens under its Immigration Act. In December, authorities arrested three unrelated Myanmarese boys, ages 10, 11, and 12, caught stealing fruit outside the camp, charged them with illegal entry, and detained them at the Immigration Detention Center in Kanchanaburi Province. Despite UNHCR's formal intervention, the Government deported them through the Three Pagoda Pass.

Thailand had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Myanmar providing for the formal deportation of 400 Myanmarese per month with the Thai government giving the names of all of deportees to UNHCR and the Myanmarese military junta in advance. Thailand also deported up to 10,000 undocumented Myanmarese per month in an informal process without handing them over directly to Myanmarese authorities but also without informing UNHCR. Most Myanmarese in Thailand were members of persecuted ethnic minorities or democracy activists. Both groups were among the deported. When UNHCR could identify refugees slated for formal deportation, it could sometimes negotiate their return through the informal process instead but had no formal means to obtain their release.

At the end of 2003, the Government ordered UNHCR to cease conducting status determinations for Myanmarese refugees or Persons of Concern (POC), although it could continue to conduct them for others. Newly entering Myanmarese refugees were thereby denied documentation, humanitarian assistance, or protection from deportation. Instead, UNHCR registered them and issued them pre-status determination papers indicating that it intended to consider their asylum cases when the process was reinstated. The Government did not consistently respect these documents, however, and arrested or deported some of their bearers regardless.

In late 2001, Thai authorities ceased screenings of refugees into camps by Provincial Admissions Boards (PABs). In 2004, UNHCR initiated a program to train Thai authorities for PABs, composed of both Thai authorities and UNHCR, with the intention of reinitiating camp screen-ings. Thailand agreed to amend its definition of a refugee as a person "fleeing fighting" to include those fleeing persecution as well but indicated that, although this would include democracy activists, it would not cover those fleeing ethnic persecution. Authorities agreed to schedule the democracy activists for resettlement, but the Government would put the rest into camps. At year's end, PABs were not yet functional and none of the 30,000 or so new Myanmarese refugees who entered Thailand in 2004 were eligible for any sort of refugee processing.

Detention  Authorities arrested about 100,000 Myanmarese without proper documentation and detained many who could not afford bribes, including 167 registered refugees in 15 detention centers and prisons. The Government often detained refugees it found outside the camps. The main detention center in Bangkok held 132 asylum seekers, including 27 minors. Authorities did not typically prosecute detainees before deporation, making agreement to "voluntary" deportation the only means for Cambodian, Laotian, and Myanmarese refugees to obtain release.

Authorities allowed UNHCR to place a staff member at the Immigration Detention Center and allowed one of its local partners to monitor detention in and around Bangkok. UNHCR could not monitor all facilities, however, and authorities did not regularly inform the agency when refugees were detained or when it scheduled informal deportations. Authorities allowed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) limited access to prisons. Several Bangkok-based NGOs provided legal assistance to refugees without interference.

UNHCR issued pre-status determination papers to some asylum seekers but could not do this for the hundreds of thousands of unrecognized refugees living in the migrant community.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  Thailand did not allow camp-based refugees to work, but did permit about 1.2 million undocumented Myanmarese living outside of camps to register for temporary work permits tied to specific employers in limited economic sectors. Beneficiaries had to apply between July and September, pay fees equivalent to one month's wage, and pass health examinations. Labor legislation did not protect working refugees unless they registered as migrants.

Thailand did not allow refugees to engage in business, obtain related licenses, or hold title to or transfer business premises, farmland, homes, or other capital assets.

Refugees and migrants used the Thai judicial system to hold employers accountable for labor law violations, but employers and authorities threatened to deport, physically harm, or even kill those taking legal action against employers. The immigration law made some exceptions for trafficking victims, but in general, undocumented refugees who filed claims were subject to arrest and deportation. Even registered migrant workers could not form or lead unions although they could join unions formed and led by Thais.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Authorities confined 150,000 refugees to camps and arrested camp residents they caught outside. Those who registered as migrants were able to live in designated provinces.

The Government continued to restrict the movement and residence of Vietnamese who entered in 1945 and 1946 and of Chinese Nationalists who entered between 1953 and 1961. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Shan from Myanmar required permission from local authorities or the army to travel domestically or internationally.

The Government did not issue international travel documents to refugees.

Public Relief and Education  The 1992 Regulation on Evidence of a Child's Birth for School Admission issued by the Ministry of Education provided that all children should have access to education, including those without Thai nationality and without civil registration documents. Thai civil society groups argued that the 1997 Constitution allowed education for all, up to university level, regardless of nationality. In practice, however, few Myanmarese refugee children went to Thai schools because they feared arrest and deportation for lack of documentation and could not afford school fees. School staff members were often ignorant of the policy to accept Myanmarese students and favored nationals for the limited spaces for additional pupils. The Government allowed NGOs to provide education through 10th grade in refugee camps.

Refugees who registered as migrants received healthcare on par with nationals, but undocumented refugees were afraid to seek medical care for fear of arrest. The Government allowed NGOs to provide medical care to refugees in camps.

Thailand continued to limit NGO access to camps to those approved by the Ministry of Interior (MOI). The Government also increased restrictions on overnight stays, camp passes, vehicle registration numbers, and advance notice requirements to local authorities. Authorities re-stricted NGO activities such as income generation and vocational training in some camps and did not allow journalists or others in the camps. The Government did not allow NGOs to aid the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Shan refugees who resided outside of camps or the 600,000 IDPs, many in humanitarian emergency conditions in Eastern Myanmar.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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