At Asylum Access Thailand we confront a constant that is impossible to ignore: all of our clients are continually at risk of arrest and detention, twenty-four hours a day, seven days of week.
Why? Asylum seekers and refugees are not criminals, yet they sometimes spend years in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center (it’s no Hilton). Thailand is not a party to the Refugee Convention and does not facilitate any form of protection based on international standards. Instead, refugees are locked up in terrible conditions with no rights of redress. Our clients and many other refugees are then given a stark choice by the authorities: either fly home to face the persecution you fear, or stay in these appalling conditions indefinitely. By the way, forget about any chance of being bailed out, that isn’t going to happen, since Thailand considers you “illegal”!
In 2010 we saw two large targeted round ups by the Thai authorities – over 200 Sri Lankans were arrested between mid October and December, and an additional 86 Pakistanis were detained at the end of the year. Many of these people are our clients, some of whom we work with as interpreters or community leaders. Just to keep things going, the Thai government started off the New Year by detaining an additional 200 Rohingya refugees fleeing patent discrimination in Myanmar.
At Asylum Access Thailand we see this underlying reality as fundamentally at odds with what should be a growing respect for human rights and human dignity. That is why eradicating the “detention disease” will be a priority in terms of policy objectives for this year. If we can dismantle the detention regime and come up with tangible alternatives, we can improve outcomes for our clients, while also indicating to the public that prisons should only be built for criminals. We are currently working with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network to begin addressing this disparity and have already made significant steps in presenting recommendations to the Thai Prime Minister. Removing the “detention disease” would be a significant achievement for refugees in the region.
Michael Timmins, Legal Services Manager
Asylum Access Thailand