Thailand chided for "inadequate" refugee policy
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand must ratify international treaties and formalize policies on migrants to protect tens of thousands of refugees mostly from Myanmar from extortion, deportation and arrest, a human rights group said on Thursday.
Despite ceasefires between Myanmar's reformist government and ethnic minority rebels, the prospect of early repatriation was unlikely and daunting for the estimated 150,000 people living in camps on the Thai side of the border, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
So laws were needed urgently to recognize refugees and grant asylum.
"Thailand's refugee policies remain fragmented, unpredictable, inadequate and ad hoc, leaving refugees unnecessarily vulnerable to arbitrary and abusive treatment," the group said in a report.
Refugees are not legally recognized in Thailand, which has not signed a 1951 international refugee convention. The government has no legal framework that distinguishes between a refugee from an asylum seeker, or any other migrant.
Nearly one third of those in camps along the 2,107 km (1,310 mile) Thai-Myanmar border are unregistered and barred from leaving their camps, or seeking employment. Those who find jobs are deemed illegal and often have to bribe officials and businessmen, leaving them open to mistreatment, HRW said.
In addition to the mostly ethnic minority people who have fled decades of fighting to the border camps, between one and three million migrants from Myanmar work in Thailand and most are unregistered, labor activists say.
Bill Frelick, HRW's refugee policy director, said the people in camps who were too scared or unable to return home should have the chance to be formally registered or granted asylum. Continued...