AHRC urgent action on THAILAND: Rohingya asylum seekers arrested in southern provinces of Thailand

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-020-2012

14 February 2013

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THAILAND: Rohingya asylum seekers arrested in southern provinces of Thailand

ISSUES: Refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers; human trafficking; minorities
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned for the fate of Rohingya asylum seekers who have been arrested in the past weeks in police sweeps of remote areas in Songkhla’s Sadao district near the border with Malaysia and the other provinces. They have fled from Burma, where they have been subjected to various types of persecution. Even though Rohingya migrants are entering into Thailand without permission, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race and religion they are entitled to seek asylum. Therefore customary international law and the non-refoulement principle should be strictly applied by the Thai state.

CASE DETAILS:

Rohingya migrants have fled from Burma, where they have been subjected to various types of persecution. In Thailand, they have been arrested in the past weeks as police rounded up 397 Rohingya migrants at remote areas in rubber plantations in Songkhla’s Sadao district near the border with Malaysia on January 10, 2013. As of January 31, the number of Rohingyas reportedly arrested was 1486 persons.

On January 16, The Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand seeking help for the detained Rohingya. NHRC member Niran Pitakwatchara said a sub-panel on civil and political rights would meet state agencies on January 28 to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra recently approved temporary assistance for a group of Rohingyas until their status is determined, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is also trying to determine the people’s status but a person shall be granted refugee status first, then he/she would be resettled later on.

On January 18, The Central Islamic Council of Thailand said it would propose the central mosque of Songkhla province be used as a main shelter for Muslim migrants who have not been charged with any criminal offences. The Council also encouraged Muslim nations, international organisations and the United Nations agencies on human rights to discuss with a third country the possibility of granting asylum to the Rohingya migrants.

But, on January 21, the National Security Council insisted that the detained Rohingya should be classed as illegal immigrants, not refugees. Meantime, police have been arresting people alleged to have brought the Rohingya into Thailand, and have been examining the role of human trafficking agencies.

On January 31, the government decided to take care of the Rohingya for six months. The male Rohingya asylum seekers were being detained at the Immigration Bureau while women and children were staying at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security’s shelters for children and women.

For further analysis of the legal status under law on Immigration of these persons in Thailand, please see the sample letter, below.

Background Information:

Even though Rohingya migrants entering into Thailand under domestic law could be removed from the territory, because they are seeking asylum in accordance with the terms of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and because many of them are stateless persons, the government of Thailand has an obligation to recognize their claims and make necessary arrangements to accommodate them until such a time as they can return to Burma safely or go to a third country. These obligations apply under international customary law irrespective of the fact that Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Convention.

Rohingya from western Burma have since the 1970s been subject to systematic programs for their removal from the country or for their economic and political marginalization, through denial of access to travel documents, effectively prohibiting them from enjoying rights to education, health, movement and employment that other people in the country have. Since the mid-2000s, increasing numbers have come to Thailand, sometimes on their way to Malaysia or Indonesia, where authorities have treated them with hostility, on some occasions reportedly towing boats that have attempted to land back out to sea. The most recent arrivals have fled following violence in mid-2012 and October 2012, during which entire urban communities and villages were allegedly razed through fire by members of indigenous communities, claiming that the Rohingya have no legitimate claim to reside as an ethnic minority in Burma. Claims that the persons responsible for attacks were backed by government officials are credible given the longstanding and blatant anti-Rohingya position taken by the government in Burma and its personnel, but are difficult to prove given the current conditions in the region, which remains under a state of emergency.

For additional information on human rights issues in Burma and Thailand, visit the AHRC’s country pages: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/thailand, http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write letters to the authorities listed below, urging them to assist Rohingya asylum seekers, not treat them as illegal immigrants. Please note that for the purposes of this letter, Burma is referred to by its official name as Myanmar.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on trafficking in persons, on the human rights of internally displaced persons, on human rights in Myanmar, and to the human rights office in Bangkok, calling for urgent intervention into this matter.

To support this appeal please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear _________,

THAILAND: Rohingya asylum seekers arrested in southern provinces of Thailand

I am writing to you to call for urgent intervention into the case of Rohingya migrants who have fled from Myanmar, where they have been subjected to various types of persecution. In Thailand, they have been arrested in the past weeks as they have arrived in the county’s south. According to the information I have received, as of January 31, a total of 1,486 Rohingya had been taken into custody.

On January 16, The Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand seeking help for the detained Rohingya. NHRC member Niran Pitakwatchara said a sub-panel on civilian and political rights would meet state agencies on Jan 28 to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra recently approved temporary assistance for a group of Rohingyas until their status is determined, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is also trying to determine the people’s status but a person shall be granted refugee status first, then he/she would be resettled later on.

On January 18, The Central Islamic Council of Thailand said it would propose the central mosque of Songkhla province be used as a main shelter for Muslim migrants who have not been charged with any criminal offences. The Council also encouraged Muslim nations, international organisations and the United Nations agencies on human rights to discuss with a third-party country the possibility of granting asylum to the Rohingya migrants.

But, on January 21, the National Security Council insisted that the detained Rohingya should be classed as illegal immigrants, not refugees. Meantime, police have been arresting people alleged to have brought the Rohingya into Thailand, and have been examining the role of human trafficking agencies.

On January 31, the government had decided to take care of the illegal Rohingya migrants for six months. The male Rohingya migrants were being detained at the Immigration Bureau while women and children were staying at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security’s shelters for children and women.

In this context, I want to take this opportunity to express my concern about law enforcement under Immigration Act B.E.2522 (1979). Clearly, the Rohingya are not Thai nationals and has entered Thailand as aliens, in accordance with section 4 of the Act. They having no genuine and valid passport or document used in lieu of passport, and therefore under section 58 their migration into Thailand is illegal.

According to section 19, “In inspecting and considering whether as alien is forbidden from entering the Kingdom, the competent officer shall have authority to allow said alien to stay at an appropriate place after promising that he will present himself to the competent officer to received his orders on a specified date, time and place; or if the competent officer deems appropriate he may call for bond or call for both bond and security; or the competent officer may detain aliens at any place.” It is in accordance with this section that the people have now been detained.

Notwithstanding, because Rohingya migrants entered Thailand because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion and nationality in Myanmar, the Council of Ministers may consider a special exemption under section 17 of the act.

Accordingly, I call upon the government of Thailand to recognize its international obligations in this instance, and strictly apply customary international law and the non-refoulement principle, thereby allowing these asylum seekers to remain in Thailand for the foreseeable future. I urge that all persons detained be released into the community, subject to suitable arrangements by the relevant authorities for the provision of, and monitoring of, accommodation and other services. I also call on the government to enter into negotiations with relevant governments and multilateral agencies with a view to making the necessary provisions for these persons with regard to their fundamental human rights, and humanitarian concerns.

Lastly, I take this opportunity to urge the government of Thailand to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees at the earliest possible occasion, in order that it might fall within the international framework established for the protection of these persons and others fleeing similar forms of persecution.

I look forward to your prompt action.

Yours sincerely,

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra
Prime Minister
Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
Bangkok 10300
THAILAND
Tel: +66 2 288 4000
Fax: +66 2 288 4000 ext. 4025
E-mail: spokesman@thaigov.go.th
2. Mr. Charupong Ruangsuwan
Minister of Interior
Atsadang Road
Bangkok 10200
THAILAND
Tel: +66 2224 6320 ext 50004
Fax +66 2226 4371
3. Mr. Surapong Tovichakchaikul
Minister of Foreign Affairs
443 Sri Ayudhya Road,
Bangkok, Thailand 10400
Tel – Fax +66 2643 5320
minister@mfa.go.th
4. Pol.Gen.Adul Saengsingkaew
Commissioner General
Office of Commissioner General, Royal Thai Police, 1st Bldg,
7th Fl., Royal Thai Police, Rama 1 Rd.
Pathum Wan
Bangkok 10330
Tel +66 2251 6831
Fax +66 2205 3738
Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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