Advocacy group Fortify Rights urged the Thai government to address alleged arrests and extortion of Myanmar refugees seeking healthcare access in the border town of Mae Sot.
“There is a sickness at the heart of Thailand’s approach to people fleeing the crimes taking place in Myanmar,” said Patrick Phongsathorn, senior advocacy specialist at Fortify Rights.
He said with the Global Refugee Forum approaching, “the new Thai government has an opportunity to change” its approach towards refugee and migrant issues.
In its new investigation, the group revealed cases of “arbitrary arrest extortion of Myanmar refugees” who are seeking medical attention.
The group said it has interviewed at least 38 Myanmar refugees, including eight women, on the Thailand-Myanmar border, who have experienced “predatory practices” at the hands of Thai authorities.
On June 26, 46-year-old Kyaw Aye from Myanmar’s Bago region was stopped “three times in one day” by Thai police while seeking diabetes treatment.
“I feel like one day I’m going to die because of all these police checks… I won’t be able to get medical treatment on time,” Aye told Fortify Rights.
Another refugee, 52-year-old Moe Moe, has “experienced back-to-back arrests” while seeking healthcare in early 2022.
She was first arrested in February 2022 and in March of the same year along with her husband and two children while they traveled back from a clinic to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
Maung Maung, a 30-year-old doctor from the Yangon region, experienced extortion after the Thai police raided his residence and confiscated medicine and equipment in Mae Sot town in March 2022.
The police arrested and questioned him at the station. “They asked me, ‘Are you a doctor?’ I said, ‘No, no, I am not a doctor [in Thailand]. I only support refugees.’ If they knew I was a doctor, they would ask for more money,” he said.
The Thai authorities eventually released Maung Maung and returned his medicine and other equipment after he agreed to pay more than US$1,000 in Thai Baht to the local police, according to Fortify Rights.
“Myanmar refugees in Thailand urgently need protective legal status to ensure access to essential public services,” said Phongsathorn.
He accused the Thai local police of targeting Myanmar refugees “with absolute impunity”. He said the “actions of these officials and the lack of legal status for refugees in Thailand are putting lives at risk.”
There are over 90,000 refugees from Myanmar in nine temporary refugee camps in Thailand, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
Fortify Rights said there is an untold number of other refugees in hiding in Mae Sot and throughout Thailand following the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.
Thailand has a legal obligation under domestic and international law to provide access to healthcare to everyone, including refugees,” the group said.