Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun as head of state. In a 2014 bloodless coup, military leaders, taking the name National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by then army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, overthrew the civilian government administered by the Pheu Thai political party, which had governed since 2011 following lower house elections that were generally considered free and fair.
The military-led NCPO maintained control over the security forces and all government institutions.
An interim constitution, enacted by the NCPO in 2014 was in place until April 2017, when the king promulgated a new constitution, previously adopted by a popular referendum in 2016. The 2017 constitution stipulates the NCPO remain in office and hold all powers granted by the interim constitution until establishment of a new council of ministers and its assumption of office following the first general election under the new charter. The 2017 constitution also stipulates that all NCPO orders are “constitutional and lawful” and are to remain in effect until revoked by the NCPO, an order from the military-appointed legislative body, the prime minister, or cabinet resolution. The interim constitution granted immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any coup or postcoup actions ordered by the ruling council, regardless of the legality of the action. The immunity remains in effect under the 2017 constitution. Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect throughout most of the year. NCPO Order 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, granted the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.” In December, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha lifted the ban on political activities, including the ban on gatherings of five or more persons. The military government’s power to detain any individual for a maximum of seven days without an arrest warrant remains in effect, however.
Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture by government officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla; restrictions on political participation; and corruption.
Authorities took some steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in the State of Emergency (2005), hereinafter referred to as “the emergency decree,” and the 2008 Internal Security Act remained in effect.
Insurgents in the southernmost provinces committed human rights abuses and attacks on government security forces and civilian targets.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The 2017 constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions for “maintaining the security of the state, public peace and order or public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”
Following the 2014 coup, the NCPO issued orders prohibiting travel outside the country for approximately 155 persons, the majority of which it lifted in 2016. Nevertheless, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center (TLHR) estimated there were an additional 300 persons who, when summoned to appear before the NCPO following the 2014 coup, signed agreements as a condition of their release consenting not to travel abroad without NCPO approval. According to the TLHR, the NCPO had not revoked the restrictions contained in these agreements. The NCPO asserted the travel ban is the result of continuing litigation and not an NCPO initiated ban.
The government usually cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with some restrictions.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In 2015 authorities confined in IDCs and shelters approximately 870 Rohingya and Bangladeshi persons who arrived in the country irregularly by boat during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in May 2015. As of September approximately 100 persons (mostly Rohingya) remained in detention.
Authorities continued to treat all refugees and asylum seekers who lived outside of designated border camps as illegal migrants. Persons categorized as illegal migrants are legally subject to arrest and detention. Although reinstated in 2013, authorities have not universally permitted bail for detained refugees and asylum seekers since 2016.
International humanitarian organizations noted concerns about congested conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, and limited freedom of movement in the IDCs.
In-country Movement: The government restricted the free internal movement of members of hill tribes and other minority groups who were not citizens but held government-issued identity cards. Authorities prohibited holders of such cards from traveling outside their home districts without prior permission from the district office or outside their home provinces without permission from the provincial governor. Offenders are subject to fines or a jail term of 45 to 60 days. Persons without cards may not travel at all. Human rights organizations reported police at inland checkpoints often asked for bribes in exchange for allowing stateless persons to move from one district to another.
Foreign Travel: Local authorities required resident noncitizens, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minorities, to seek permission for foreign travel. A small number of nonregistered Burmese refugees, who were approved for third-country resettlement but not recognized as refugees by the government, waited for years for exit permits.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, authorities hosted significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, generally provided protection against their expulsion or return, and allowed persons fleeing fighting or other incidents of violence in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until conflict ceased. Moreover, authorities permitted urban refugees recognized by UNHCR and registered camp-based Burmese refugees to resettle to third countries.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where they would face threats to their lives or freedom because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Outside the camps, government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. However, if caught outside of camps without permission the authorities generally allowed registered and verified Burmese refugees to return to their camp. Other Burmese, if arrested in Thailand without refugee status or legal permission to be in Thailand, were often escorted back to the Burmese border. Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status; however, one Cambodian UNHCR-recognized person of concern was returned in February, and others with protection concerns were forcibly returned to their home countries.
As part of an overall operation to reduce illegal immigrants and visa overstayers in the country, immigration police in Bangkok sometimes arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. The government, however, has not deported any UNHCR-registered persons of concern from these groups. There were approximately 412 refugees and asylum seekers residing in IDCs as of December 10, and approximately 50 Uighurs have been detained in Thailand since 2015.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Burmese asylum seekers and refugees who reside outside official refugee camps are by law considered illegal migrants, as are all non-Burmese asylum seekers and refugees in the country if they do not hold a valid passport and visa. If arrested they are subject to indefinite detention at IDCs in Bangkok and other provinces.
UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to some groups of refugees outside the official camps remained limited. Its access to asylum seekers in the main IDC in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi International Airport to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year. UNHCR had access to provincial IDCs where authorities detained ethnic Rohingya to conduct refugee status determinations. Authorities allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance.
The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of approximately 100,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services.
The government facilitated third-country resettlement for approximately 1,400 Burmese refugees from camps as of August. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border who are not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement, and authorities have confined them to the camps since the camps were established. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to possible harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation.
Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality-verification process, which allows migrant workers with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country.
Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. 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 followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). The law allows victims of trafficking and witnesses who cooperate with pending court cases to work legally during and up to two years after the end of their trial involvement.
Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside the nine camps on the border with Burma. For needs beyond primary care, a medical referral system allows refugees to seek other necessary medical services. For the urban refugee and asylum seeker population living in Bangkok, access to basic health services was minimal. Since 2014 two NGOs provided primary and mental health-care services. UNHCR coordinated referrals of the most urgent medical cases to local hospitals.
Since Burmese refugee children living in the camps generally did not have access to the government education system, NGOs continued to provide educational opportunities, and some were able to coordinate their curriculum with the Ministry of Education. In Bangkok some refugee communities formed their own schools to provide education for their children. Others sought to learn Thai with support from UNHCR, because the law provides that government schools must admit children of any legal status who can speak, read, and write Thai with some degree of proficiency.
Temporary Protection: The government continued to extend temporary protection status to the migrants of Rohingya and Bangladeshi origin who arrived during the 2015 maritime migration crisis in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for long-time residents. An estimated 470,000 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were likely stateless or at risk of statelessness, including persons from Burma who did not have evidence of Burmese citizenship, ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities, and previously undocumented minorities.
The government pledged to attain zero statelessness by 2024 and in 2016 approved a Cabinet resolution that provides a pathway to Thai nationality for approximately 80,000 stateless children and young adults. The resolution covers persons born in the country, whose parents are ethnic minorities, who are registered with the government, and who have resided in the country for a minimum of 15 years. The new resolution also applies to stateless youths certified by a state agency to have lived in the country for 10 years whose parentage is unknown.
Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law bases citizenship on birth to at least one citizen parent, marriage to a male citizen, or naturalization. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6, Children). Recent amendments to the law allow ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children, who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai,” to apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth.”
The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status. Many parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to the complexity of the process, the need to travel from remote areas to district offices, and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document.
By law stateless members of hill tribes may not vote or own land, and their travel is restricted. Stateless persons also may not participate in certain occupations reserved for citizens, including farming, although authorities permitted noncitizen members of hill tribes to undertake subsistence agriculture. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing credit and government services, such as health care. Although education was technically accessible for all undocumented and stateless children, it was usually of poor quality. School administrators placed the term “non-Thai citizen” on these students’ high school certificates, which severely limited their economic opportunities. Some public universities charged stateless and undocumented students higher tuition rates than citizens.
Without legal status, stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse (see section 6, Children and Indigenous People).