Thailand: Ensure All Refugees Have Access to Screening Mechanism, Appeals Process
Thai authorities reject rights commission recommendations for new refugee-screening mechanism
(BANGKOK, January 18, 2024)— Thai authorities should urgently ensure all refugees in Thailand have access to a recently initiated screening mechanism and an appropriate appeals process, said Fortify Rights today. According to a cabinet resolution dated January 2, 2024, the Royal Thai Police (RTP) and seven other government agencies reportedly rejected recommendations by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) to bring the National Screening Mechanism (NSM)—a first-of-its-kind process in Thailand to identify and protect refugees—in line with international human rights standards.
“Thai authorities know that this mechanism to screen refugees is not fit for purpose, but refuse to implement recommendations to address its shortcomings,” said Patrick Phongsathorn, Senior Advocacy Specialist at Fortify Rights. “The government should reconsider its decision to stick by a system that fails to meet basic human rights standards, especially given Thailand’s candidature of the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
Based on information contained in the cabinet resolution, on August 9, 2023, the RTP convened a meeting of “concerned authorities”—including the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, justice, labor, the National Security Council, the Council of State, and the Attorney General's office—to review recommendations by the NHRCT to address concerns with the design of the screening mechanism. Summarizing the meeting outcome, the cabinet resolution reported that the RTP stated that changes to the NSM were “not yet necessary” and that the authorities should implement the NSM “for some time [first] to explore any possible problems and obstacles.”
As stated in the cabinet resolution:
The Immigration Bureau under the RTP... shall have the duty and power to compile, explore, study, and analyze information concerning the possibilities for development [of the NSM] and to address problems and obstacles arising from the implementation of the NSM Regulation, as well as to prepare any recommendation regarding the solutions…
On June 22, 2023, the NHRCT submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office an analysis of the NSM, identifying four provisions of the NSM regulations “which are not compatible with human rights” and citing recommendations made by Fortify Rights and other organizations working with refugees in Thailand. Specifically, the NHRCT expressed concern with the regulation’s exclusion of certain categories of individuals from having access to protection under the NSM, the “too short” time frame time for appealing decisions, restrictions on refiling an application for protection under the NSM, and the imbalance between civil society representatives andex-officiocivil service representatives who sit on the NSM expert committee.
Ahead of the Global Refugee Forum, on December 12, 2023, Fortify Rights and seven other organizations working with refugees in Thailandwroteto Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, advocating for the protection of NSM applicants from arrest, detention, and criminal prosecution. Earlier, after analyzing a summary of the draft NSM regulations, on December 15, 2022, Fortify Rights issued anopen letterurging the government to remove the discriminatory provisions that needlessly and arbitrarily exclude certain individuals from protection under the NSM, including migrant workers from neighboring countries and other individuals subject to “special measures or procedures.”
TheThai Cabinet established the NSMin December 2019 as a mechanism to identify and offer protection to refugees in Thailand. After years of delay, on March 27, 2023, the Cabinet approved anotificationstipulating the procedure and eligibility criteria for individuals seeking protection under the NSM. Almost four years after its establishment, Thai authorities initiated the implementation of the NSM on September 22, 2023.
Although Thailand is not a party to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the Convention provides authoritative guidance on refugee protection under international law. Under the Convention, a refugee is defined as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Refugee status and the attendant protections for refugees extend to any individual who meets the definition of a refugee, regardless of other types of legal status that a refugee may possess.
Furthermore, the principle ofnon-refoulement–legally binding on all states under customary international law—protects anyone from forced return to a country where they may face torture or other forms of ill-treatment. Thailandpassed a domestic law incorporating provisions on non-refoulement in October 2022.
According to theU.N. High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR), Thailand hosts close to 91,000 Myanmar refugees in nine camps along the border with Myanmar, while a further 5,000 refugees from various countries reside in other areas of the country. UNHCR, citing Thai government statistics, reports that from February 2021 until September 30, 2023 a further 45,000 Myanmar refugees sought safety from Myanmar junta attacks in Thailand.
“Rather than settling for a sub-standard and potentially abusive system, Thailand should aim to meet international law and standards with the NSM,” said Patrick Phongsathorn. “A good place to start would be to implement the NHRCT’s recommendations.”
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