Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Thailand

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Thailand , 14 June 2006, available at: [accessed 19 November 2017]
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/Physical Protection

In early June, the Thai military deported to Myanmar at least 400 ethnic Shan refugees. In November, police arrested 27 Hmong refugees, including 26 minors, and, in early December, deported them to Laos without allowing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to interview them. Laos denied receiving them, and inquiries from the UN, the United States, the European Union, and Australia found no information about what happened to them after their return. They were part of a group of 6,500 Hmong that Thailand evicted from their homes in July (see below).

Thailand continued to return undocumented Myanmarese, with 400 formal deportations monthly, per its Memorandum of Understanding with Myanmar. Thailand provided Myanmar and UNHCR the names of formal detainees 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. Many of them were members of persecuted ethnic minorities and democracy activists. When UNHCR could identify refugees slated for formal deportation, it could sometimes negotiate their return through the informal process. Thailand returned about 2,000 Myanmarese in January, following the December 2004 tsunami.

About 700 to 1,000 ethnic Shan arrived in Thailand each month. Thailand was not party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and had no legislation to recognize refugees. In 1999, the Government suspended its process of Provisional Admissions Board (PAB) screenings that had relegated refugees to camps based on a narrow definition of having fled immediate fighting.

In 2003, the Government ordered UNHCR to cease conducting status determinations for Myanmarese. Instead, UNHCR registered asylum seekers and issued them pre-status determination papers indicating that it intended to consider their cases when the Government reinstated the process. The Government did not consistently respect these documents, however, and arrested or deported some of their bearers.

In 2004, UNHCR trained Thais to become members of PABs in an effort to reinstate screenings. The Government amended its definition of a refugee to include those fleeing persecution as well as immediate fighting. By the end of 2005, PABs screened refugees who had lived in Tham Hin camp, unregistered, since 2001. Authorities expected PAB members to screen all the unregistered refugees who had lived in camps since 2001 in early 2006, a population of 18,000.

Detention/Access to Courts

Thailand detained thousands of refugees and asylum seekers during the year. Typically, the authorities deported detainees without prosecution. The only way to obtain release was to agree to deportation.

Authorities allowed UNHCR to place a staff member at the Immigration Detention Center and allowed a local partner to monitor detention in and around Bangkok. UNHCR could not monitor all facilities, however, and authorities did not regularly inform the agency when they detained refugees or when they were scheduling informal deportations. Authorities allowed nongovernmental legal aid organizations limited access to prisons.

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.

Police arrested eight Chinese Falun Gong practitioners for not carrying their passports after they protested outside the Chinese embassy in December. Thailand detained them for several weeks before allowing them to resettle in Norway.

Nominally, criminal law protected all persons, including non-citizens and those who entered the country illegally. In August, Myanmarese Karen refugees in Phop Phra filed a complaint with UNHCR against four Thai police officers, alleging that they had forced them to undress at a checkpoint and stolen their valuables. In January 2006, police released the suspect in the December murder of a Myanmar migrant worker and arrested the four complaining witnesses.

Traditional justice systems in the camps failed to protect women, often compelling accusers in rape cases to marry the perpetrators. If the victim refused, they could impose other penalties and not punish the attacker, depending on his social status. Members of the camp committees in Karen camps involved in such decisions were mostly male, and refugee women's groups complained about their handling of cases of sexual or gender-based violence. In the two camps of Karenni refugees, the justice system was more developed and there were a few female judges. Sentences also ranged from verbal warnings to fines to detention and expulsion from the camp. In some cases, refugees apparently sent those found guilty back to Myanmar for execution by the ethnic faction associated with the courts.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Authorities confined 143,000 refugees to camps and arrested camp residents they caught outside. Those who registered as migrants could live in designated provinces.

Thailand set a March 31 deadline for all refugees in urban areas to report to camps or face arrest and deportation as illegal immigrants. Around 2,000 reported in compliance with the order, including former Members of Parliament from the National League for Democracy and members of the All Burma Students Democratic Front. UNHCR permitted the refugees to bring personal effects and documents, but not computers or mobile phones. Several Thai Senators protested the move, and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee described the Tham Hin camp, where the authorities confined many of them, as "like a concentration camp."

In July, Thailand forced villagers in Phetchabun province to evict 6,500 Laotian Hmong refugees from their homes threatening them with five years in prison and about a $1,330 (50,000 Baht) fine if they did not comply. They also threatened the refugees with deportation. At least one infant died while the Hmong were living along a highway median, before Thailand finally relented and gave them food, water, and shelter.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Shan required permission from local authorities or the army to travel domestically or internationally.

The Government did not issue international travel documents to refugees.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Thailand did not allow refugees in the camps to work but did allow Myanmarese outside the camps to register for migrant worker permits but shared the identities of those participating with the Myanmarese junta, deterring refugees from applying. The permits also required the sponsorship of particular employers in designated areas, inhibiting worker mobility and bargaining power. They were also only available for unskilled jobs. During 2005, migrant registration ran from June until early August, and was open only to those who had registered in 2004. Around 705,000 workers registered in 2005, almost 150,000 fewer than in 2004. To register, migrants had to submit to a medical exam and pay about $101 (3,800 Baht), about a month's wages. Employers who lent migrants the money often withheld their registration cards until they repaid it.

In December, the Government announced that, in 2006, it would require employers to deposit about $266 (10,000 Baht) for migrant workers from the 2004 registration and about $1,330 (50,000 Baht) for new ones. Human rights groups criticized the measure as potentially leading to debt bondage, employers objected as well, and the Government suspended it for the March 2006 registration, saying it would reconsider it for the June 2006 registration. In December, the Ministry of the Interior expressed openness to including refugees in the migrant system as long as they remained under Government control.

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 could use the Thai judicial system to hold employers accountable for labor law violations. In October, a group of Myanmarese migrant workers, with the support of trade unions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), received a month's back pay and the return of documents their employer withheld to prevent them from seeking work elsewhere. Employers and authorities, however, could threaten to arrest and deport undocumented migrants who brought such actions, although the law made some exceptions for trafficking victims. Even registered migrant workers could not form or lead unions but could join unions formed and led by citizens. Local immigration officials, in apparent collusion with factory owners, often deported even legally registered migrant workers who tried to strike.

Public Relief and Education

In December, Thailand's Education and Interior Ministries announced plans for a new education program for camp-based refugees. The Office of Non-Formal Education was to provide teachers, televisions, computers, and textbooks and the curriculum was to include Thai and English language classes, as well as vocational training.

Refugees who registered as migrants received health services 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.

The Government allowed UNHCR to monitor conditions in nine camps along the border but not to maintain a permanent presence in them. Thailand limited NGO access to camps to those the Ministry of Interior (MOI) approved. Authorities restricted NGO income generation and vocational training in some camps and did not allow journalists not registered with the MOI in the camps. The Government allowed NGOs to provide food, medical services, housing, and other services to Myanmar refugees outside the camps. Assailants reportedly assaulted NGO personnel helping migrant workers.

Search Refworld