Thai authorities have been censured by a leading rights group over their treatment of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) voiced their disapproved of Thailand’s treatment of Rohingya after local authorities arrested at least 12 of the persecuted ethnic group and sent them to an immigration detention facility.
“Thailand should help the oppressed Rohingya from Myanmar, not worsen their suffering,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “The Thai government should recognize the plight of Rohingya and allow them access to desperately needed protection.”
In a statement HRW said the latest group of Rohingya arrived in Thailand by land, crossing from Myanmar into Mae Sot district of Tak province on May 20.
The rights group said that the Thai government’s “inhumane policy” of holding Rohingya arriving in Thailand in indefinite detention should be immediately repealed.
“The Thai government should scrap its policy of summarily locking up Rohingya and throwing away the key, condemning them to indefinite detention in cramped and unhygienic detention centers now susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak,” said Adams.
“The Rohingya have been brutally persecuted in Myanmar. Thailand should permit the U.N. refugee agency to screen all Rohingya arriving in Thailand to identify and assist those seeking refugee status,” he said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has the technical expertise to screen for refugee status and the international mandate to protect refugees and stateless people, stated HRW. Effective UNHCR screening of all Rohingya arrivals would help the Thai government determine who is entitled to refugee status, the group said.
The Myanmar government and military have long persecuted the Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for generations.
But Buddhist-majority Myanmar refuses to recognize Rohingya as citizens or one of its ethnic groups.
Over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled repression and dire poverty. Human trafficking gangs have abused and exploited many of those who eluded death during their dangerous journey.
The situation has significantly worsened since August 2017, when the Myanmar military committed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, driving as many as 740,000 into exile in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“Responsibility for the security of the Rohingya rests primarily with the Myanmar government, but extends to the countries where they seek refuge,” HRW said in their statement.
Like its predecessors, the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has treated Rohingya arriving at the border as illegal immigrants, subject to detention in squalid immigration lockups, the rights group said.
“The government has not permitted UNHCR to conduct refugee status determinations for them,” HRW said. “Thailand also discriminates against Rohingya by refusing to allow them to register as legally documented migrant workers, unlike other people coming from Myanmar,” the group said.
HRW pointed out that Thai authorities have for years said they do not want to treat Rohingya as asylum seekers.
“However, under international law, Thailand cannot summarily disregard the claims of asylum seekers who arrive at its borders. Thailand is obligated to allow them to enter the country and seek protection,” HRW said.