U.N. refugee chief holds positive talks with Thai Prime Minister

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had a promising meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok last week and said he expected to hold further talks to develop more cooperation on issues the agency is concerned about regarding the 100,000-plus displaced persons being sheltered by Thailand on its soil.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), met with the prime minister after visiting refugees camps in Thailand near the border with Myanmar as part of an inspection tour of the Asia-Pacific region. Also attending the meeting were officials from the Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry and National Security Council. Before leaving for Bangladesh, Grandi also briefly met with displaced persons who have been allowed to live in Bangkok.

The prime minister “has tried to eliminate detention against children refugees. The UNHCR also advised the government to eradicate all detentions. The work is ongoing,” Grandi told reporters after the meeting at Government House. “It was a good start,” he said of Thailand’s actions.

Thailand is not a party to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Nonetheless, successive governments have repeatedly affirmed the country’s commitment to protecting refugees and migrants, as well as pledging to support humanitarian principles.

While reports of abuses against refugees and migrants have occasionally surfaced, Thailand’s record of treatment, particularly of refugees, is overwhelmingly positive. For decades, it was one of the only nations in the region not torn by armed conflict, insurgencies or foreign occupation and so provided sanctuary for people fleeing violence and war.

The Kingdom sheltered hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cambodia in the late 1970s and 1980s, and as many as 150,000 displaced persons from Myanmar since the 1970s. Roughly 100,000 displaced persons from Myanmar, mostly from the country’s ethnic minorities, are still living in camps in Western Thailand.

The eradication of forced refugee detention, the granting of citizenship to stateless people, and the respectful deportation of asylum seekers are among goals that Grandi said the UNHCR would strive to achieve greater progress on in future talks with the Thai government.

Thailand has made steady progress on granting citizenship to stateless people, mostly hill tribe people in the north who have roamed across borders or were born in remote areas of the country and so lack proof of citizenship, and Grandi acknowledged that.

“It’s the UNHCR’s mandate to eliminate statelessness,” he said. “The government has started giving nationality after careful verification. This is an exercise that may take several years.”

While remaining open to UNHCR concerns and suggestions, the prime minister said Thailand has done a good job on refugee issues.

“Thailand has taken care of refugees well,” Prayut was quoted as telling Grandi, by a government spokesperson. “We have provided education, public health, basic needs, logistics and temporary shelters.”


Photo courtesy of http://www.thaigov.go.th/news/contents/details/5125