Thirty Cambodian nationals from the Jarai minority group, also known as Montagnards, including 13 children, have been arrested and are being detained in Bangkok, a human rights NGO official there told The Post on Monday. They face deportation.
The NGO said they were arrested under the Immigration Act on grounds of having illegally entered and illegally staying in the country, even after having received a “person of concern” status from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Fortify Rights claims Thai authorities have arrested more than 200 refugees and asylum seekers over the past two months. They have reportedly fled from Cambodia, Vietnam and Pakistan and are being detained at the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Bangkok.
The executive director of Fortify Rights, Amy Smith said in the press release on Sunday: “The rights of refugees are still under attack in Thailand despite the government’s promises to provide protection. Thailand is needlessly subjecting refugees to further violations.”
Among those held are some 180 UNHCR “persons of concern” from Cambodia and Vietnam, including more than 50 children. Their arrests follow a raid in Nonthaburi Province.
Two days after the raid, authorities separated 46 children, aged three months to 17 years, from their parents, said a Fortify Rights news release.
Puttanee Kangkun, Thailand Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights, told the Post on Monday that among those approximately 30 arrested people including 13 children are Jarai or Montagnard with Cambodian citizenship and some of them are
“The [Thai] government shall not deport these people to a host country where they fled [from], fearful of persecution. Non-refoulement shall be respected. Most of them are asylum seekers or refugees waiting for resettlement to a third country."
“They should be under UNHCR protection and in principle should not be arrested and detained under immigration laws. If they are forced to go back to their country of origin, they could face serious human rights violations,” she said.
Although there have been no reports of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members seeking political asylum in Thailand and living temporarily in Bangkok, former opposition party officials expressed concern for their safety considering the arrests.
Ms Puttanee said there were no CNRP members among those arrested, Kong Mas, a former CNRP teamwork member who used to request for asylum in Thailand, reiterated his concerns over the safety of asylum seekers wishing to live in the third country.
“In fact, many CNRP members, fleeing here for a long period of time since the party’s dissolution on November 16, last year, are deeply worried over the migration to Thailand."
“First, we worry about the safety and arrest by Thai authorities because the UNHCR in Thailand does not have a Memorandum of Understanding with Thai government,” he said.
He could not confirm how many former opposition party members were seeking asylum and how many had been granted to live in the third country. But, he believed most of them stuck were in Thailand after fleeing to there, following the dissolution of the CNRP.
“Our party activists who fled there dare not go out much. Most of them live quietly to seek asylum in order to live in a third county,” he said.
National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said he has not received any information over the arrest on the Jarai people, but said if they are Cambodians and they are to be deported, Cambodia will take them back.
“If they are Cambodians, we cannot ignore them,” he said.
A raid which occurred on a residential building in Bangkok on October 9 saw the arrest of at least 77 refugees from Pakistan, including 43 children.
It came the day after Thai Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan reportedly ordered immigration authorities to arrest and deport within one month all migrants in Thailand without documentation or authorisation.
The UNHCR, mandated to protect refugees, had previously recognised some of them as persons of concern and in need of protection in Thailand.
All of those arrested, including the children, are now detained at Suan Phlu IDC awaiting charges for alleged violations under the Immigration Act.
Thai authorities are reportedly conducting “immigration raids” in many areas of Bangkok and other provinces where refugees and migrant communities reside.