Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. Nevertheless, authorities continued to host significant numbers of refugees, provide some protection against their expulsion or return, and allow persons fleeing fighting in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until fighting ceased. In addition, non-Burmese refugees recognized by the UNHCR and registered Burmese refugees residing in official refugee camps were permitted to resettle in third countries.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers and non-Burmese refugees who reside outside official refugee camps are by law considered illegal migrants. If arrested, they are subject to indefinite detention at IDCs in Bangkok and other provinces (see section 1.c.).
The results of the pilot screening of Burmese asylum seekers by government-instituted Provincial Admissions Boards (PABs) remained under review by the government, and expansion of the screening process to the remaining five camps did not occur by year’s end. An estimated 60,000 Burmese have not registered due to the operationally defunct status of the general PABs.
The UNHCR was limited in its ability to provide its protection mandate to some Lao Hmong and Burmese outside the official camps as well as to all North Koreans. It continued to have access to asylum seekers in the main IDC in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi International Airport to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals. Resettlement countries were allowed to conduct processing activities in the IDC, and NGOs were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance.
In August the media reported that authorities had arrested a Chinese Uighur male on immigration charges and immediately turned him over to Chinese authorities. The UNHCR was unable to interview the individual to determine if he was seeking asylum before his deportation.
The government continued to allow the UNHCR to monitor the protection situation of the more than 144,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in the nine camps along the Burmese border but prohibited the UNHCR from having an assistance role in the camps. NGOs, funded by the international community, provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, housing, and other services. Government authorities issued identification cards to registered refugees living in the camps. Outside the camps, government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese migrants, regarding all as illegal migrants. Generally, authorities took those arrested to the border and deported them.
The government continued to facilitate third-country resettlement of camp refugees, and during the year resettled 9,262 Burmese from camps to other countries. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border who were not registered with the government were not eligible for third-country resettlement. When registered refugees resettle, hundreds of unregistered family members have been left behind without reunification prospects. In addition, beneficiaries of foreign-government-approved refugee and asylee family-reunification visas were not permitted to depart Thailand. Although the government agreed in principle to register family members through special PABs, by year’s end no special PABs had been initiated.
Nonrefoulement: In practice the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and during the year thousands of asylum seekers entered the country and its refugee camps. However, NGOs estimated that army border units returned thousands of Burmese asylum seekers--mostly those seeking refuge from border skirmishes--to Burma before they could reach established refugee camps.
Beginning November 2010 through early 2011, more than 30,000 ethnic Karen and other Burmese entered the country at the town of Mae Sot, Phop Phra District, Tha Son Yang, and Three Pagodas Pass to flee fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, often aligned with other ethnic armies, and the Burmese army. While active fighting was underway, fleeing populations generally were permitted to remain in the country at designated sites outside the official camps. The UNHCR, NGOs, and community-based organizations provided food, water, shelter, health, and sanitation services to most populations. When the fighting ceased, the RTA facilitated the return of the displaced Burmese to Burma with the promise that they could cross again if fighting resumed. Some NGOs reported coerced or forced returns by the RTA before conditions were safe. At the beginning of the year, approximately 6,000 of these Burmese remained in Thailand. In the spring a few communities consisting of several hundred Burmese lived in hiding with relatives on the Thai side of the border. NGOs reported that fighting in various locations on the Burmese side of the border continued until midyear.
In January the Royal Thai Navy reportedly intercepted three boats carrying Rohingya (a stateless, predominantly Muslim group residing in western Burma) passengers. Thai authorities took the first boat with 91 passengers into custody and, according to the passengers, towed the boat out to sea and set them adrift. On February 6, Indian authorities rescued them off the Nicobar Islands. A number of the passengers reportedly required hospitalization for dehydration and exposure. Thai authorities placed the 135 passengers of the other two boats, of whom 14 were minors, in immigration custody. The national welfare agency took nine of these minors into custody and held them in a shelter while contacting their parents; the other passengers were held in southern Thailand IDCs, and the UNHCR and NGOs had access to them. From September to December, authorities reportedly encountered another five to seven boats at sea, provided humanitarian assistance, and allowed them to continue on. Additionally, authorities reportedly seized other boats carrying 221 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on or near Thai territory, arrested the migrants, took them to the border with Burma, and released them.
Authorities continued to detain 44 Rohingya individuals from the interception of boats in 2009. During 2011 three detainees from the 2009 group reportedly died in custody, including two minors. The UNHCR and NGOs had access to detainees from previous years. During the year authorities released all detained Rohingya at the border with Burma, and at year’s end there were no reports of Rohingya detained anywhere in Thailand.
On December 17, the government deported Kha Yang, a Lao Hmong, through an informal mechanism to Laos, where he was in custody at year’s end. Authorities had forcibly returned him to Laos in 2009 as part of a group of 158 UNHCR-recognized Hmong refugees, and he had subsequently returned to Thailand.
Immigration Police continued to arrest and detain asylum seekers and refugees in Bangkok, including women and children. Ninety-six were known to be in detention at year’s end, primarily from Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Bail agreements in 2011 between the Immigration Police and several registered Thai NGOs resulted in the first-time release of significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers from indefinite detention upon receipt of bail. By year’s end authorities had released 157 refugees and four asylum seekers.
Refugee Abuse: On September 28, Yang Chao, one of a group of Lao Hmong returnees being irregularly repatriated to Laos near Nong Khai, Thailand, drowned in the Mekong River. Although unsubstantiated, foreign-based elements of the Hmong diaspora alleged that Thai authorities had beaten him, and there was no known investigation.
Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. Burmese refugees in the official camps are prohibited from working outside the camps.
The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and began a process to document their status (see section 7.d.).
Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside closed camps.
A complicated medical referral system hampered the ability of refugees to seek some necessary medical services. On October 3, the NGO Doctors Without Borders--which provided basic medical services to thousands of undocumented migrants and vulnerable populations outside refugee camps--announced its withdrawal from Thailand after 36 years of operation, because of alleged government interference and the NGO’s inability to obtain permission to continue providing health care services.
Refugee children generally did not have access to the Thai education system; NGOs provided schooling, with some coordination with the Ministry of Education regarding curriculum.
Temporary Protection: Throughout the year small groups of individuals fleeing fighting in Shan State, Burma, crossed into Thailand. There were no reports of their forced return to Burma by the government, although persons of Shan ethnicity are not permitted to enter the refugee camps, pursue refugee status, or seek resettlement to third countries.