Refugees, Migrants and Human Rights in Thailand

Of Vietnamese refugees in 1979:

“As dusk fell, a band of Thai fishermen bearing rifles, hammers and knives came to us with torches. They gave us a thorough search, took some clothing and then went away. Just after they were gone, another band came to take their place, searching us everywhere and this continued until beyond midnight. All in all there were three bands that did this. The last one, completing their search, drove all the men and youths into a cave and stood guard over it while they took the women away to rape them. In the dark mist and the cold wind, we could only listen to the cries of the children being torn from their mothers’ arms, the prayers and beseeching of the feeble women … Women were pulled out of some spots and beaten, and then gang raped cruelly by as many as ten fishermen at a time. Some pirates engaged in sadistic sex, striking the victims as they raped them until the girls fainted.”

Source: Stefan Eklof, Pirates in Paradise: A Modern History of Southeast Asia’s Maritime Marauders (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2006), p.22.

Of refugees:

“The reports of harsh treatment come in the context of a huge flow of refugees from neighboring countries in the past three decades that has imposed a social and economic burden on Thailand. Since the mid-1970s, Thailand has been a refuge for millions fleeing conflict and repression in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

“Thailand is surrounded by dangerous neighbors who have generated huge refugee flows, and it has sometimes felt overwhelmed by these flows,” said Kenneth Bacon, president of the human rights group Refugees International. “Its record in handling them is mixed.”

In the most notorious episode, in 1979, 42,000 Cambodian refugees fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge were forced back down a cliff into a minefield by the Thai military. Survivors said many of them died.

During the same period, Vietnamese boat people were victimized by Thai pirates operating without official restraint.

Although tens of thousands of refugees now live in semipermanent camps along the Thai border with Myanmar, some of them are periodically forced back against their will. Last summer Human Rights Watch protested [against] the forcible repatriation of a group of ethnic Karen refugees who had fled military brutality in Myanmar, formerly Burma.”

Source: Seth Mydans, “Thailand Is Accused of Rejecting Migrants,” New York Times (January 17th, 2009), available at:


Of Burmese migrant workers:

“A sea prisoner refers to a Burmese who was sold by a broker (Burmese or Thai) to a Thai owned fishing trawler. The owner of the trawler would keep the Burmese at sea, not allowing them to disembark at any ports at any time. If their boat had to dock for unloading fish, the victim was put on another fishing boat that was sailing out to sea. The people who come alone to Thailand without relatives or friends from their native village suffered this problem. A sea prisoner does not get a salary either. Sometimes they would receive money to spend on cigarettes or other amenities. Most sea prisoners are children in their early teens.

Although other Burmese fishermen know about the sea prisoners, they have no opportunity to rescue them. They are away at sea for a very long time, and most of the owners of the fishing boats are very rich and have the power to kill a person any time while at sea.”

Myint Wai, A Memoir of Burmese Workers: from Slave Labour to Illegal Migrant Workers (Bangkok: Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, 2004), p.57.

There is a great deal more material of this sort.

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JW has been one of the first contributors to this blog before he gave up on it all in April 2010, during a time when Thai society got more and more polarized about political matters because of red-shirt protesters.

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