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.

Plan A: Deny All Knowledge about Anything, Ever.

We have all seen the coverage of the Thai military’s treatment of the Rohingya refugees and we have all seen the photographs. Even the denials by at least some of the military people involved seem little more than perfunctory. So when the, as some people believe, PM who was appointed by the influence of the army chief decides to claim that the reports were ‘exaggerated,’ many people will think he is merely starting to repay the numerous favours paid to him.

What a huge difference today between the USA and Thailand. In the first, a rejection of human rights abuses and a desire to repair the country’s image in the eyes of the world; in the second, back sliding and weaseling by the son of enormous privilege aiming to restore the class system and the inequalities of the past. The Quisling Thai PM Abhisit has already made a name for himself by denying the Amnesty International report about systematic torture and abuse in the South of Thailand.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has meanwhile requested access to Rohingya refugees to see their situation for themselves. Let us see what international opinion has to say about Abhisit after this – if required to turn on the army for the sake of principle, I think we all know what the outcome will be.

How Relevant is Abhisit to Decision-Making?

There seems to be little doubt that the Thai military has been deliberately and systematically sending refugees out in boats with insufficient food and drink and power and that many have died as a result. It has been clear for some years (at least) that the military believes itself to be wholly unconcerned with the law or with obligations to the government – the refusal of army chief General Anupong to obey orders issued by the democratically-elected PM and the organization of the Judicial Coup and insertion of the PADemocrat government are evidence of this, if further evidence is needed.

Since the military appears to decide in conjunction with various invisible hands who is to run the country and into whose pockets money will flow, one must wonder how relevant or important the Prime Minister Abhisit really is. Despite receiving inordinate media praise and having been exonerated on draft dodging charges on the grounds of …. er … convenience, it increasingly appears that Abhisit is scarcely consulted on important issues. Was he consulted when the deal with the PAD was concluded to end the illegal airport seizure, in partial return for which the PAD was given the Foreign Ministry and the pro-coup elements the Defence Ministry? Does he really think bringing back the Land Reform Project which finally got rid of the disgraced Chuan Leekphai administration was a good idea or has he simply been instructed to do so? Are there other policies we should look upon in the same way?

In a genuinely democratic country, parties are elected on the basis of the policies and ideology that they espouse. Consequently, the nature of individuals representing the government does not matter so much as long as they are properly bringing about policies in accordance with the ideology proclaimed. The problem in this case, of course, is not just that the people have repeatedly rejected the Democrat ideology but that policies seem to be originating from people who have not stood for election for many years or, in some cases, ever.