BANGKOK, January 16 – The UN Refugee Agency warmly welcomes the Royal Thai Government’s recent approval of a framework to enhance the identification and protection of refugees.
On January 10, Thailand’s Cabinet approved in principle a proposal to finalize and implement a screening mechanism for undocumented immigrants and refugees.
In a press conference that followed, the Deputy Spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office said the process will be led by the Immigration Bureau of the Royal Thai Police, working with a newly-created inter-ministerialcommittee chaired by the Prime Minister or his deputy. Together they willbuild on an existing draft by the Council of State and finalize a detailed draft Regulation to be presented for approval by the Cabinet.He added that this would be done in collaboration and cooperation with foreign governments or foreign government agencies, international organizations and relevant non-governmental organizations.
UNHCR has long been advocating for such a screening mechanism in a country that has hosted more than 1 million refugees over the years without a comprehensive legal framework. Under Thailand’s current Immigration Act, urban refugees and asylum-seekers can be considered “illegal aliens” and are subject to arrest and detention if they do not have valid documentation.
“This Cabinet action represents an important and concrete step towards creating an appropriate regulatory framework for refugee management and protection in Thailand,” said Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand. “We hope it will clearly establish the criteria and methodology for deciding who is and isn’t a refugee, and outline their rights and obligations in Thailand.”
Last week’s announcement builds upon specific pledges designed to improve protection and solutions for refugees in Thailandmade by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the September 2016 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, and the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees convened by US President Barack Obama in New York.
“With more than 65 million people forcibly displaced globally, it is crucial that States and international actors work hand in hand to respond to growing humanitarian needs,” said Menikdiwela. “It is heart-warming to see Thailand acting upon pledges made in New York, and once again taking a leadership role in the ASEAN region in addressing complex issues related to refugees and stateless persons.”
UNHCR continues to offer technical and other assistance in full support of finalizing and implementing an appropriate regulatory framework for refugee management and protection in Thailand.
The country currently hosts nearly 8,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in urban areas and more than 102,000 Myanmar refugees in nine camps on the border with Myanmar.