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    Human Rights Bid to Speak Out for Stateless, Voiceless Rohingya Boatpeople

    Source Phuket_Wan:
    February 14, 2013
    By Human Rights Urgent Appeals
    Program
    THAILAND: Rohingya asylum
    seekers arrested in southern provinces of Thailand

    ISSUES: Refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers; human trafficking; minorities

    Dear friends,

    The Asian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned for the fate of Rohingya
    asylum seekers who have been arrested in the past weeks in police sweeps of
    remote areas in Songkhla’s Sadao district near the border with Malaysia and the
    other provinces. They have fled from Burma, where they have been subjected to
    various types of persecution. 

    Even though Rohingya migrants are entering into Thailand without
    permission, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race
    and religion they are entitled to seek asylum. Therefore customary
    international law and the non-refoulement principle should be strictly applied
    by the Thai state.


    CASE DETAILS:

    Rohingya migrants have fled from Burma, where they have been subjected
    to various types of persecution. In Thailand, they have been arrested in the
    past weeks as police rounded up 397 Rohingya migrants at remote areas in rubber
    plantations in Songkhla’s Sadao district near the border with Malaysia on
    January 10, 2013. As of January 31, the number of Rohingya reportedly arrested
    was 1486 persons.


    On January 16, The Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand submitted a
    petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand seeking help for
    the detained Rohingya. NHRC member Niran Pitakwatchara said a sub-panel on
    civil and political rights would meet state agencies on January 28 to discuss
    the issue. 


    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yingluck
    Shinawatra recently approved temporary assistance for a group of Rohingya until
    their status is determined, and the United Nations High Commissioner for
    Refugees is also trying to determine the peoples’ status but a person shall be
    granted refugee status first, then he/she would be resettled later on.
    On January 18, The Central Islamic
    Council of Thailand said it would propose the central mosque of Songkhla
    province be used as a main shelter for Muslim migrants who have not been
    charged with any criminal offences. The Council also encouraged Muslim nations,
    international organisations and the UN agencies on human rights to discuss with
    a third country the possibility of granting asylum to the Rohingya migrants.
    But, on January 21, the National
    Security Council insisted that the detained Rohingya should be classed as
    illegal immigrants, not refugees. Meantime, police have been arresting people
    alleged to have brought the Rohingya into Thailand, and have been examining the
    role of human trafficking agencies.
    On January 31, the government decided
    to take care of the Rohingya for six months. The male Rohingya asylum seekers
    were being detained at the Immigration Bureau while women and children were
    staying at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security’s shelters for
    children and women.
    For further analysis of the legal
    status under law on Immigration of these persons in Thailand, please see the
    sample letter, below.
    Background Information:
    Even though Rohingya migrants
    entering into Thailand under domestic law could be removed from the territory,
    because they are seeking asylum in accordance with the terms of the 1951
    Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and because many of them are
    stateless persons, the government of Thailand has an obligation to recognise
    their claims and make necessary arrangements to accommodate them until such a
    time as they can return to Burma safely or go to a third country. These
    obligations apply under international customary law irrespective of the fact
    that Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Convention.
    Rohingya from western Burma have
    since the 1970s been subject to systematic programs for their removal from the
    country or for their economic and political marginalisation, through denial of
    access to travel documents, effectively prohibiting them from enjoying rights
    to education, health, movement and employment that other people in the country
    have. Since the mid-2000s, increasing numbers have come to Thailand, sometimes
    on their way to Malaysia or Indonesia, where authorities have treated them with
    hostility, on some occasions reportedly towing boats that have attempted to
    land back out to sea.
    The most recent arrivals have fled
    following violence in mid-2012 and October 2012, during which entire urban
    communities and villages were allegedly razed through fire by members of
    indigenous communities, claiming that the Rohingya have no legitimate claim to
    reside as an ethnic minority in Burma. Claims that the persons responsible for
    attacks were backed by government officials are credible given the longstanding
    and blatant anti-Rohingya position taken by the government in Burma and its
    personnel, but are difficult to prove given the current conditions in the
    region, which remains under a state of emergency.
    SUGGESTED ACTION:
    Please write letters to the
    authorities listed below, urging them to assist Rohingya asylum seekers, not
    treat them as illegal immigrants. Please note that for the purposes of this letter,
    Burma is referred to by its official name as Myanmar.
    Please be informed that the AHRC is
    writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on trafficking in
    persons, on the human rights of internally displaced persons, on human rights
    in Myanmar, and to the human rights office in Bangkok, calling for urgent
    intervention into this matter.
    SAMPLE LETTER:
    Dear —–,
    THAILAND: Rohingya asylum seekers
    arrested in southern provinces of Thailand
    I am writing to you to call for
    urgent intervention into the case of Rohingya migrants who have fled from
    Myanmar, where they have been subjected to various types of persecution. In
    Thailand, they have been arrested in the past weeks as they have arrived in the
    county’s south. According to the information I have received, as of January 31,
    a total of 1486 Rohingya had been taken into custody. [More recenly the number
    was given as 1752.]
    On January 16, The Burmese Rohingya
    Association in Thailand submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission
    of Thailand seeking help for the detained Rohingya. NHRC member Niran
    Pitakwatchara said a sub-panel on civilian and political rights would meet
    state agencies on January 28 to discuss the issue.
    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yingluck
    Shinawatra recently approved temporary assistance for a group of Rohingya until
    their status is determined, and the United Nations High Commissioner for
    Refugees is also trying to determine the people’s status but a person shall be
    granted refugee status first, then he/she would be resettled later on.
    On January 18, The Central Islamic
    Council of Thailand said it would propose the central mosque of Songkhla
    province be used as a main shelter for Muslim migrants who have not been
    charged with any criminal offences. The Council also encouraged Muslim nations,
    international organisations and the United Nations agencies on human rights to
    discuss with a third-party country the possibility of granting asylum to the
    Rohingya migrants.
    But, on January 21, the National
    Security Council insisted that the detained Rohingya should be classed as
    illegal immigrants, not refugees. Meantime, police have been arresting people
    alleged to have brought the Rohingya into Thailand, and have been examining the
    role of human trafficking agencies.
    On January 31, the government had
    decided to take care of the illegal Rohingya migrants for six months. The male
    Rohingya migrants were being detained at the Immigration Bureau while women and
    children were staying at the Ministry of Social Development and Human
    Security’s shelters for children and women.
    In this context, I want to take this
    opportunity to express my concern about law enforcement under Immigration Act
    B.E.2522 (1979). Clearly, the Rohingya are not Thai nationals and have entered
    Thailand as aliens, in accordance with section 4 of the Act. They having no
    genuine and valid passport or document used in lieu of passport, and therefore
    under section 58 their migration into Thailand is illegal.
    According to section 19, ”In
    inspecting and considering whether as alien is forbidden from entering the
    Kingdom, the competent officer shall have authority to allow said alien to stay
    at an appropriate place after promising that he will present himself to the
    competent officer to received his orders on a specified date, time and place;
    or if the competent officer deems appropriate he may call for bond or call for
    both bond and security; or the competent officer may detain aliens at any
    place.” It is in accordance with this section that the people have now been
    detained.
    Notwithstanding, because Rohingya
    migrants entered Thailand because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted
    for reasons of race, religion and nationality in Myanmar, the Council of Ministers
    may consider a special exemption under section 17 of the act.
    Accordingly, I call upon the
    government of Thailand to recognise its international obligations in this
    instance, and strictly apply customary international law and the
    non-refoulement principle, thereby allowing these asylum seekers to remain in
    Thailand for the foreseeable future.
    I urge that all persons detained be
    released into the community, subject to suitable arrangements by the relevant
    authorities for the provision of, and monitoring of, accommodation and other
    services. I also call on the government to enter into negotiations with
    relevant governments and multilateral agencies with a view to making the
    necessary provisions for these persons with regard to their fundamental human rights,
    and humanitarian concerns.
    Lastly, I take this opportunity to
    urge the government of Thailand to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the
    Status of Refugees at the earliest possible occasion, in order that it might
    fall within the international framework established for the protection of these
    persons and others fleeing similar forms of persecution.
    I look forward to your prompt action.
    Yours sincerely,
    PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
    1. Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra
    Prime Minister
    Government House
    Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
    Bangkok 10300
    THAILAND
    Tel: +66 2 288 4000
    Fax: +66 2 288 4000 ext. 4025
    E-mail: spokesman@thaigov.go.th
    2. Mr. Charupong Ruangsuwan
    Minister of Interior
    Atsadang Road
    Bangkok 10200
    THAILAND
    Tel: +66 2224 6320 ext 50004
    Fax +66 2226 4371
    3. Mr. Surapong Tovichakchaikul
    Minister of Foreign Affairs
    443 Sri Ayudhya Road,
    Bangkok, Thailand 10400
    Tel – Fax +66 2643 5320
    minister@mfa.go.th
    4. Pol.Gen.Adul Saengsingkaew
    Commissioner General
    Office of Commissioner General, Royal
    Thai Police, 1st Bldg,
    7th Fl., Royal Thai Police, Rama 1
    Rd.
    Pathum Wan
    Bangkok 10330
    Tel +66 2251 6831
    Fax +66 2205 3738
    Thank you.
    Urgent Appeals Program
    Asian Human Rights Commission
    (ua@ahrc.asia)
    A need for dialogue
    Many people across Asia are
    frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their
    countries. Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of
    expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police
    brutality and military killings. Many others are frustrated with the absence of
    rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like.
    Yet the expression of this
    frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere. People complain among
    friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile
    basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the
    situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor.
    Though the media may cover the issues
    in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the
    average person. And along with censorship ??? a common blight in Asia – there
    is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at
    least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are
    discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is
    rarely encouraged in the public realm.
    There may also be unwritten, possibly
    unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.
    Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into
    play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the
    public space, sometimes very subtly. In other places an inner consensus is
    influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social
    expression of those less fortunate. Moral and ethical qualms can also be an
    obstacle.
    In this way, causes for complaint go
    unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self
    perpetuates. For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need
    ways to get these issues into the public sphere.
    Changing society
    In the past bridging this gap was a
    formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money
    and were therefore controlled by investors. Printing presses were expensive,
    which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money. Except in times
    of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline
    or misrepresent the poor.
    Still, thanks to the IT revolution it
    is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost. In this
    situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public,
    regardless of the class or caste of the individual.
    Practical action
    The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was
    created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by
    doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action. If X’s
    freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z
    finds his or her labor rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and
    effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to
    action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and
    follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster.
    The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful
    tools.
    At the core of the Urgent Appeals
    Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with
    objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on
    the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a
    team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a
    working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of
    information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out
    to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure
    for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her
    own government. However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is
    most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights
    lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:
    ”The urgent appeal introduces
    narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed
    in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film,
    former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it
    is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis
    that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of
    human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right,
    the organisation will be doing all right.”
    Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the
    continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to
    pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we
    are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how
    they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have
    opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks,
    national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies. The program and
    its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and
    for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical
    reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.