Groups decry Thailand’s arrest of asylum seekers

AP, BANGKOK

Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 6

Human rights groups on Thursday expressed alarm at Thailand’s detention of more than 160 asylum seekers from hill tribe ethnic minorities in Vietnam and Cambodia, saying that they face possible persecution if returned to their homelands.

Thai and international rights groups said the asylum seekers were rounded up on Tuesday in a northern suburb of Bangkok and charged with contravening immigration law.

Thailand-based Human Rights Lawyers Association said some had cards from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identifying them as having been certified as refugees.

The detainees, from the Jarai and other minorities, “fled persecution, discrimination and repression” in Vietnam and Cambodia, the group said.

Many hill tribe minorities — often collectively called “Montagnards” — aligned themselves closely with the US military during the Vietnam War and were treated with suspicion and repression by victorious communist forces after the war.

Some groups’ identification as Christians continues to put them at odds with ruling communist authorities in Vietnam, and occasional unrest in their Central Highlands homeland always triggers sharp crackdowns.

Puttanee Kangkun, a human rights worker with the group Fortify Rights, said the 38 detainees from Cambodia could be sent directly back under a bilateral agreement, but there is no such agreement with Vietnam, which means the other detainees must face trial before any further action against them is considered.

They were tried and found guilty on Thursday, Puttanee said, adding that those unable to pay fines could be detained indefinitely.

Thai Ministry of Social Development and Human Security officials had separated children from their parents in the arrested group to be cared for outside of detention centers until their parents are released, she said.

Although Thailand is not part of the UN’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, it is still responsible under customary international law to not send back refugees who risk harassment or abuse, a practice known as “non-refoulement,” the Human Rights Lawyers Association said.