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Refugee Agency slams arrests in Thailand
By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE,
Published on June 21, 2011
‘Deep concern’ over 32 locked up, including children
The United Nations refugee agency yesterday slammed Thailand for the arrest of 32 refugees over the past two weeks.
The refugees were arrested in a number of locations, including Bangkok.
“We are deeply concerned about these arrests, which just increase the sense of insecurity that refugees and asylum-seekers already feel,” said Jean-Noel Wetterwald, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional representative and coordinator for Southeast Asia, who is based in Bangkok.
Thirty-two asylum seekers and refugees, including many children, have been arrested since June 7 and the charges against them are unclear, the UNHCR said.
Six Pakistani asylum seekers and a Pakistani who had obtained refugee status were nabbed in Pathum Thani on June 7 and sent to Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre at Suan Phlu. The group included three children, two of whom were under five years old.
Two days later, on June 9, nine Ahmadi asylum-seekers, including two more children under five years old, were arrested in Ayutthaya. The UNHCR was able to secure the release of three other Ahmadi asylum-seekers who were rounded up in Bangkok on the same afternoon without them being charged or brought to court, it said.
The Ahmadi Muslim sect has tens of millions of members in 190 countries, with most followers living in the subcontinent and Africa.
Five other refugees and eight asylum-seekers - Ahmadis and Sri Lankans, including eight children - were detained on June 15 at a Bangkok bus stop and taken to the Bangkok detention centre, the UN said.
“We have long believed that refugees should not be locked up simply for being refugees,” Wetterwald said.
Thailand has long experience, starting in the 1970s, of dealing with refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries. As at the end of last year, Thailand was sheltering 96,675 refugees, mostly from Burma, and the UN was discussing with the Thai authorities the verification of about 540,000 stateless persons in the country, the UNHCR said in its annual report on “Global Trends”, released yesterday.
However, Thailand, like many Asian countries, does not have a national asylum system. All foreigners who enter or live in Thailand without proper documentation are subject to arrest, prosecution, detention and deportation under immigration laws, even if they are registered with the UNHCR as asylum-seekers or refugees.
“An immigration detention centre is no place for refugees and asylum-seekers who have committed no crime, especially for children and women,” Wetterwald said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said the ministry acknowledged the UN’s concern, but said Thai immigration authorities had handled the arrests in accordance with normal legal procedures.
“For a long time, Thailand has treated them in accordance with our laws, on a humanitarian basis,” Thani said. “Thailand is ready to cooperate with the UNHCR, concerned countries and international organisations to solve the problem.”
As far as children are concerned, it is established policy not to separate them from their parents. As long as the parents are under arrest, they are allowed to take care of their children within the detention centre, Thani said.