Friday, February 4, 2011

Emulate M’sia’s example in refugee protection

KUALA LUMPUR: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Thailand to follow in Malaysia’s footsteps by allowing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to a group of detained Rohingya asylum seekers.
One-hundered and fifty-eight Rohingyas arrived in Thailand from Burma late last month and joined 53 others detained since 2009 in the Thai immigration detention system.
According to HRW, the Thai authorities have repeatedly refused to grant UNHCR access to these 211 detainees to determine if they qualified for refugee status.
Its Asia director, Brad Adams, said that Thailand’s stand contrasts sharply with that of Malaysia’s where the authorities allowed UNHCR to visit and assess the cases of 93 detained Rohingyas last year.
The UNHCR concluded that all were refugees and the Malaysian authorities released them from immigration detention.
“As a new member of the UN Human Rights Council, Thailand should be spearheading regional efforts to protect refugees rather than detaining them,” Adams said.
“If Malaysia can comply with international refugee protection standards, why can’t Thailand?” he asked.
“The persecution of Rohingyas in Burma is atrocious, but the Thai government continues to pretend that they are no different from any other undocumented migrants.”
Genuine asylum seekers
Adams also said that in previous years, boats landing in Thailand have carried both Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals pretending to be
Rohingyas.
He added that effective UNHCR screening would help the Thai authorities separate genuine refugee claims by Rohingyas from other claims.
“The Thai government should take advantage of the expertise of UNHCR, which has repeatedly told the authorities it is ready to help screen Rohingya asylum seekers,” he said.
“By doing so, Thailand can put itself in a strong position with its international partners to seek a longer term, sustainable solution for the Rohingyas.”