Bangkok migrant raids lead to arrest of 19 children
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Bangkok migrant raids lead to arrest of 19 children

OVER the past two weeks, Thai authorities sprung multiple raids on unsuspecting asylum seekers throughout the city: leading many to question the authenticity of Thailand’s goals to develop ethical and practical immigration policies.

According to the human rights group Fortify Rights, dozens of refugees and asylum seekers have been detained for either overstaying their visas or unlawful entry. By international law, refugees who have UNHCR documents are supposed to be exempt from arbitrary arrest – especially if children are involved.

“Thai authorities are trampling on the rights of asylum seekers,” Fortify Rights executive director Amy Smith said.

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“Asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries shouldn’t experience further violations in Thailand. Thailand should respect the rights of those in need of protection, including asylum seekers and children.”

However, Thai authorities continue executing raids that undoubtedly target marginalised groups.

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A Thai policeman at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2015. Source: Shutterstock/Settawat Udom

The most recent raid occurred on Nov 7, when police infiltrated 10 locations in Bangkok targeting both refugees and asylum seekers. According to Fortify Rights, police apprehended vulnerable groups including UNHCR recognised “People of Concern”, although exactly how many people were arrested is still unconfirmed.

One week prior, on Oct 31, authorities executed another raid named “Black Halloween”, as distasteful a name as questionable the arrests. The incursions were directed towards refugee dense areas eventually leading to the arrest of 21 Somali asylum seekers, including eight children. It appears police purposefully searched for those with darker complexions, stereotyping and categorising them as criminals.

Most of those arrested held UNHCR documents. One distraught and concerned Somali mother spoke to Fortify Rights, saying: “I witnessed the killing of my husband and the rest of my children [back in Somalia], but I managed to survive. My son is the last of my family. He is everything to me.”

Her son is only 11 years old and he is currently waiting for news of what will happen to him – while his mother continues to wait in distressed anticipation.

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On Oct 30, Thai police aimed their scope at Pakistani refugees.

They stormed small apartment homes in the Phet Kasem area of Bangkok, arresting 22 Pakistani asylum seekers, two of which were children. To the astonishment of rights groups, all detainees held documents issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Raids like these are unfortunately no surprise, however, as it is well known how easy it is to migrate to Bangkok illegally. It’s also established that people of colour are often harassed in Thailand. Nightmare stories are abundant, and tales of indefinite detention are incredibly prevalent.

In fact, on Oct 21, more arbitrary arrests occurred. It seems the pattern continues.

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Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha rides on a tractor at a farmer school in Suphan Buri province, Thailand, on Sept 18, 2017. Source: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

Police detained seven Somali asylum seekers with legal UNHCR documents. Again, five children were arrested—and now currently detained at Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre (IDC).

Bangkok’s IDC has been heavily criticised for the conditions inside: along with the inability to offer adequate or some say even humane care, additionally unable to offer timeframes of release for many detainees inside.

The centre is nothing less than a prison: cramming an absurd amount of prisoners together in unhealthily small spaces. NGOs and rights groups particularly criticise the centres’ inability to offer health and hygiene-related basics.

As of late, IDC is also under scrutiny for detaining children, which is a clear and obvious violation of international law. IDC has a policy not to detain children under 15 – a policy it seems isn’t at all being implemented.

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Thai police don’t distinguish illegal immigrants who come here for financial reasons, from asylum seekers. Instead, they arbitrarily bundle the two groups together. Arresting whoever falls within the scope of their raids.

“I don’t understand why IDC is so hesitant [to release children from IDC] even though they know detaining children is against the law. There is no reason for them to detain any refugees. Refugees are not criminals,”  says Phutanee Kangkun, a human rights specialist for Fortify Rights.

“It’s clearly seen in how they define their raids. ‘Black Halloween’ and ‘Black Eagle’ operations are discriminating against people of darker complexion. They [Thai police] assume people of colour have more tendencies to commit crimes than other nationalities. This way, all people of colour are suspects, including asylum seekers and refugees.”