Thailand’s new screening system – Concerns arise among rights groups and refugees
Yasemin Beyza Uçar
South and East Asia Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
More than 90,000 refugees are currently living in Thailand’s temporary shelters at the border with Myanmar. Additionally, around 5,000 Asylum seekers and 480,000 stateless persons live in Thailand, according to the United Nations approximation (UNHCR).
Thailand launched a new protection program for foreign asylum seekers on September 22, 2023. Upon successful approval, undocumented foreigners who fear persecution in their home country can apply for temporary legal residence under “protected persons” status. It is crucial to remember that Thailand never signed the United Nations refugee convention. Besides, no legal distinction has ever been made between asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. This situation frightens rights groups and refugees from being deported or arrested (Licas.news reporter).
The new National Screening Mechanism marks applications as successful if they cannot return home due to an understandable fear of persecution. The police order, which puts the program into effect, states that it can include any probable risk to their life or freedom, as well as the threat of torture or other human rights infringements based on race, religion, nationality, and other grounds. (Zsombor Peter).
The program’s broad definition of persecution is appreciated. However, rights groups say that the application rules are too narrow, and the grounds for rejection are too vague, giving the program space to abuse and risk many refugees. A further significant matter is the automatic exclusion of legally recognized migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (Zsombor Peter).
According to the screening rules, without further explanations, the committee may reject applications even if all conditions are met, merely stating that they might pose a risk to national security, which worries rights groups about the treatment during the application process. In 2015, the United States accused Thailand of committing genocide against the Muslim minority since more than 100 Uyghurs were sent back to China. Likewise, four political dissidents were sent back to Cambodia, where they were arrested in 2021 (Zsombor Peter).
International refugee laws prohibit the return of people to countries where they may face life-threatening circumstances, yet, Thailand has sent thousands of people, who escaped violence by Myanmar’s military, back home (Victoria Milko, Kristen Gelineau).
A Thai police commander said applicants will be stationed in shelters all over Thailand. Rights groups are frightened of being arrested during the vetting process in these shelters noting that there is no specific time constraint. An asylum seeker from Vietnam stated that the trust deficit of the Thai government is hindering him and many others from applying for the new protection program (Zsombor Peter).
Sources and further readings:
UNHCR. Thailand. UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency. Retrieved September 23, 2023, from https://www.unhcr.org/countries/thailand#:~:text=Thailand%20hosts%2091%2C401%20refugees%20from,and%20some%20480%2C000%20stateless%20persons.
LICAS.news reporter. (2023, September 22). Rights group expresses concern over Thailand’s new asylum program. LICAS.news LIGHT FOR THE VOICELESS. Retrieved September 23, 2023, from https://www.licas.news/2023/09/22/rights-group-expresses-concern-over-thailands-new-asylum-program/
Zsombor Peter. (2023, September 20). Rights Groups, Refugees Wary of Thailand's New Asylum Program. VOA. Retrieved September 23, 2023, from https://www.voanews.com/a/rights-groups-refugees-wary-of-thailand-s-new-asylum-program/7276358.html
Victoria Milko, Kristen Gelineau. (2022, April 8). Despite risk of death, Thailand sends Myanmar refugees back. Apnews. . Retrieved September 23, 2023, from https://apnews.com/article/only-on-ap-united-nations-thailand-myanmar-indonesia-21128b761ef13e31465f0a537a1b0b18