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Thailand must protect refugee rights

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Three international NGOs have expressed grave concern over the actions of Thai security personnel who forced at least 166 refugees back to Burma on Christmas Day 2010.

Thousands of ethnic Karen have fled a Burmese Army military offensive in Karen State, along the Thailand-Burma border - Photo courtesy of democracyforburma.wordpress.com ,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations, the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma), are deeply troubled by the actions of the Thai army and border police who forced at least 166 refugees back to Burma on 25 December 2010.

These refugees fled their home villages in southeastern Burma due to armed clashes between Burma’s military forces and ethnic rebels. According to information we have received, 50 women, 70 children and 46 men at the Wa Lay temporary site in Tak Province were ordered back to Burma.

Burma’s military forces have been engaged in continuous offensives against civilian and ethic rebels in Karen State since the sham 7 November elections. The situation in the border areas in Burma remains tense and volatile. On the day of the election and in the days following, clashes broke out between the Burmese military and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Southern Karen State which forced over 27,000 people in Karen State to flee into Thailand. Thailand is home to 150,000 refugees, who reside in official camps along the Thai-Burma border.

In writing this letter we acknowledge Thailand’s longstanding policy to allow the Burmese people to seek safe haven in Thailand when fleeing for their lives from armed conflict in Burma. However, we cannot ignore the recent instances in which the Thai Army decided to force refugees back to Burma. It would appear to us that this decision lacked sufficient concern regarding the fact that they face a credible and real risk of violence and persecution in their home villages. In addition, it is extremely difficult to independently verify their safety and treatment by their home government after their return. We are gravely concerned about this situation.

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We recall that the Thai military forcibly repatriated 4,689 Lao Hmong on 28 December 2009, among whom 158 were classified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as “persons of concern”. In December 2008, about 500 Rohingya boat people and Bangladeshi migrants landed in Thailand, but in January 2009 the Thai military allegedly forced them back into the open seas in rickety boats and with meagre supply of water and food. These actions are in clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement under international customary law, which prohibits the forced repatriation of refugees to places where their life or freedom would likely be threatened.

We strongly urge your government to respect international standards and good practices on refugee protection and to refrain from further forced repatriation of refugees and asylum-seekers. We call on the Thai authorities to coordinate their efforts on the protection of refugees with UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations.

Souhayr Belhassen
FIDH President

Danthong Breen
UCL Chairman

Debbie Stothard
Altsean-Burma Coordinator

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