Concerns are mounting among rights groups and refugees over Thailand’s protection program for foreign asylum seekers that was launched Friday, September 22.
Under the new National Screening Mechanism, undocumented foreigners who are persecuted in their home countries can apply for temporary legal residence to the Thai government for “protected persons” status.
Some groups, however, said that the criteria the screening mechanism will use to consider eligibility for protection “has found several deficiencies”.
Patrick Phongsathorn, Senior Advocacy Specialist at Fortify Rights, said the National Screening Mechanism, in its current form, “fails to meet international standards for refugee protection”.
“The new mechanism arbitrarily denies access to protection for millions of migrant workers, fails to explain what rights individuals protected under the mechanism will have, and allows for the blanket disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates on the broad grounds of ‘national security’,” he said.
Until now, Thailand has refrained from signing the United Nations’ refugee convention and failed to distinguish between asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.
The situation is causing a persistent sense of apprehension among asylum seekers regarding the possibility of arrest and deportation.
Phongsathorn said, “To be viewed as a success, the new National Screening Mechanism must provide all refugees in Thailand with genuine protection from arrest, detention, and forced return.”
He said tens of thousands of Myanmar refugees are currently living in the shadows in Thailand, “without any form of legal status, lacking access to basic public services, and terrified by the prospect of forced return”.
“Whether through the National Screening Mechanism or other legal means, the Thai government must start to live up to its international obligations and protect all refugees on Thai soil,” he said.
The United Nations estimates that approximately 5,000 asylum seekers reside in Thailand, although rights groups argue that the true number is probably higher.
While many successfully avoid arrest, there are instances when some are apprehended and subsequently forcibly repatriated to the very countries they fled, seeking refuge from persecution based on their identity or political convictions.