Letter of Appeal to Prime Minister of Thailand

Protest of Extreme Overcrowded Conditions
Letter from LFNKR to the Prime Minister of Thailand.

26 April, 2007

Dear General Surayud Chulanont:

We, at Life Funds for North Korean Refugees(LFNKR), wish to convey our profoundest gratitude and respect to the people and Government of Thailand for humanitarian assistance extended to the North Korean defectors in Thailand in past years.

Today, we are seriously concerned with the latest reports that some 400 North Korean refugees detained in the immigration detention centre in Swantru Street, Sathon, Bangkok, are on a five-day hunger strike to protest the undue delay in the process of their deportation to South Korea as well as the poor sanitation and detention facilities.

A number of international NGOs have been alarmed over the past few months at the crowding of over 300 female refugees including babies, children and old women into a space sufficient for only 100 inmates. As a result of this overcrowding, the inmates find they have to struggle just to gain access to toilets. There are only four toilets, and one or two of those are out of order most of the time; on the day they began the hunger strike, there was only one toilet available for all the refugees.

The inmates also suffered from the stench of garbage that had not been removed for days before it was finally removed in the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25, 2007. The amount of garbage was such that the male inmates had to spend two hours removing it, during which time the stench filled the inmates’ entire living space. Some inmates were vomiting for hours; many inmates also suffer from eye, skin and other ailments.

Furthermore, the North Korean defectors are detained there only to be deported to South Korea. We find it difficult to understand why the process for their deportation should take two to three months or longer.

In view of Thailand’s long and internationally respected history of humanitarianism, we believe that this is not the policy of the Government of Thailand. Rather, it is simply a case of inattention and negligence of duty by a small number of Thai immigration officials. The incompetence of the South Korean diplomats in Thailand, and their failure to bring the situation to the proper attention of the Government of Thailand, is also to blame. In addition, it has been indicated to us that the language barrier between Thai and Korean has been seriously handicapping the communication between the immigration authorities and the North Koreans.

We most respectfully wish to appeal to the people and Government of Thailand to expedite the deportation process and transfer custody of North Korean refugees to the South Korean Embassy, as had been done for many years until a few months ago. We ask this in light of Article 31 of the 1951 Geneva Convention prohibiting punishment of refugees on account of their illegal entry into or presence in the country, and by virtue of the status of Thailand as a member state of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR.

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) would be delighted to be allowed to offer our services to facilitate communication between the two languages as necessary. Please find attached, for your reference, the statement in English and Thai by the International Fact-Finding Mission on the Situation of North Korean Refugees in Thailand that visited Thailand during the period 25th February – 1st March 2007.

Respectfully yours,

Kato Hiroshi

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (NPO)
A-101, 2-2-8 Nishikata, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0024
Tel/Fax: 03-3815-8127