We all have heard how different nationals have sought to use
Thailand for destination and/or a formal route to 'third' countries.
For a few decades until now, Thailand has dealt with refugees
coming to Thailand in different ways. From the 'Cambodian refugee
crisis' in 1979 until now, Thailand has used several measures
in dealing with different nationals fleeing to and through Thailand
both formally and informally.
Today, this issue has become much more complex than ever. On
one hand, it is of moral obligation that the country needs to
help those fleeing from totalitarian regimes.
On the other hand, apart from national security and 'national
sentiment' reason much politicized through the Burmese illegal
immigrant issue, the country is being forced to rethink the issue
in the context of human racketeering.
Additionally, the high level authorities are seriously thinking
how Thailand is becoming a safe haven for refugees. According
to an immigration officer working in Mae Sod area (of Tak Province), "there
is no such an end of coming of these refugees."
Many also see that being a safe haven would harm the international
tie between Thailand and the countries of origin where people
are fleeing from. Thailand has diplomatic ties with almost every
country including the totalitarian regime like the Burma and
Some officials and scholars fear that if Thailand provides safe
haven for people fleeing these totalitarian regimes, then Thailand
will be helping these regimes in getting rid of people the regimes
no longer want. This may sound as an excuse, but it is necessarily
true in the case of the Hmongs from Laos and the Rohingyas from
Arakan (Burma) mostly coming through Bangladesh. Laos and Burma
had refused to take these people back.
In some cases, raising their own national procedures like checking
and rechecking to confirm individual citizenship before receiving
them back "became a bitter experience for us [Thailand],
and we need to be tough with 'immigrants' so that these countries
don't take advantage from us", said a Thai senior official.
We must also admit that Thai officials have turned blind eyes
and let certain people stay in Thailand, fearing that these certain
people when sent back may be killed or tortured.
This generalized perception toward refugees is one of the main
problems concerning Thailand's treatments of illegal immigrants.
Often, one working in the field can see that there is no proper
national official policy toward people illegally entering the
What is proper and clear for the officers to deal with people
fleeing from other countries is that they are to be treated as
illegal immigrants not refugees or victims of human trafficking
But again this is not to generalize and forget that there are
camps of refugees who are waiting to go to 'third' countries
and there are cases where victims of human trafficking were treated
In legal consideration, the broad standard of practices for
Thai officials is very much the same but the details of practices
may vary from time to time and place to place. Importantly, when
officials could not argue with NGOs concerning their treatment
of refugees, then the reason of national security overrules everything
What's more, the lack of 'checks and balances' or practices
in accordance with good governance had, as some claim, allowed
the authorities to mistreat and abuse the victims.
The accusation on certain officials has been increasingly heard
especially in the case of Burmese and also of Russian and Uzbekistan
women working as prostitutes in Bangkok.
The only recommendation is that UN, NGOs and other countries
including the 'third' countries and others at stake should urgently
do a consultation with Thailand for a reform so that Thailand
will have an internationally accepted standard and at the same
time will benefit the welfare of the refugees.
Here the consultation must be holistic in nature so that it
leads to a clear categorization of cases. A Bangladeshi who illegally
entered the country for the sake of economic reason will be categorized
differently from a North Korean fleeing from the totalitarian
regime of Kim Jong Il. The categorization will lead to the clear
standard of practice.
Currently, the detention center is not only terrible but also
totally inappropriate for many victims. What one can also expect
from the consultation is the standard and quality of officers
dealing with refugees. There are certain qualities that are seriously
wanting in these officers. Above all, officers working in this
field must be the ones who cherish human rights.
The training of officers or perhaps a change from immigration
department to Ministry of Human Security to handle the issue
would be a better start. All of the change will not come easily
because this is a highly sensitive issue. Thailand must see that
it is benefiting from it without harming its national security.
Thailand must not be the only country being held financially
responsible either. The overall economic status of the country
does not permit it to do so either. If Thailand is increasingly
pushed to be financially responsible, then there is a high proclivity
that the issue will provoke anger among Thai public who could
claim that their government neglect to look after them and instead
protect the other nationals.
The consultation can lead to good governance practices and reduce
the malpractices and abuses.
For the time being, South Korea must take the initiative if
it sees North Korean refugees as Koreans or South Koreans. The
formal agreement may not be easy for two principle reasons.
First, the agreement would jeopardize the (un)desirable relations
between Thailand and North Korea. Having a formal agreement on
the issue could mean, in the eyes of North Korea, Thailand is
colluding with South Korea. Second, the formal agreement is infeasible
as it would contradict the national law and it is perhaps undesirable
as it will go against the standardization that we all long for.
The agreement in the short run could be in the format MOU between
Thailand and South Korea in the context of protecting human rights
of the refugees in accordance with international standard with
respect to applying for citizenship or asylum seekers in 'third'