Thailand is deporting Cambodian refugees | Future Planet

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Thailand has been singled out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the deportation of three Cambodians who had obtained international protection and who were accused of conspiring against the Government of their country. The events occurred on November 8, when Thai police arrested and deported activist Voeun Veasna and former official Voeung Samnang to Cambodia, both members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved in 2017. Only ten days later Thavry Lanh, an elected official from the same political party, was also arrested.

In a statement, UNHCR stated that it had notified the authorities that these people had refugee status. In the same text, he indicated that they had asked the Government not to return them to Cambodia because they are concerned about their safety.

However, part of the problem that Veasna, Samnang, Lanh and so many other refugees in Thailand face is that, although they are recognized by UNHCR, they do not have legal status in this Asian country, since it is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951 Geneva, nor is the principle of non-refoulement contemplated in its legislation. These deportations “are contrary to the principle that obliges States, including Thailand, not to expel people to a territory where their life or liberty may be threatened,” denounced the High Commissioner, who has described the situation as “alarming.” .

Furthermore, as Andrea Giorgetta, Asia director for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) points out in an email, “Thailand often ignores their obligation under international law not to return people to a country where they face serious threats to his life or liberty ”. According to the activist, he selectively ignores these obligations, since, for example, since the February coup in Myanmar, there have been no cases of deportation by Thailand of Burmese opponents to the military junta.

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Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), comments by email that many people in Thailand are speculating that the return of the three Cambodian refugees may be retribution related to the enforced disappearance of a Thai activist of the Red Shirts, the group of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

This event happened in June 2020 and Cambodia has consistently evaded any effort to investigate the event. The activist says that, like so many things related to these cases, “only the highest levels of both governments know the truth and, of course, deny it.”

The three refugees recently deported to Cambodia have a similar past. Samnang was charged in 2019 by Cambodian prosecutors with conspiracy and incitement to commit a serious crime, which is why he fled to Thailand in 2020. As Robertson points out, the authorities have not disclosed what he is specifically accused of, because in reality “he is It’s about a fabricated charge ”:“ Dozens of activists have been charged with such charges in the last three years, ”he says.

The big question is what the international community is going to do to respond to these flagrant violations of refugee protection that are both outrageous and unacceptable.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division (HRW)

The human rights expert explains that these activists are considered to be being persecuted for political reasons and that “they will be found guilty” because the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (PPC) will request it from the judges.

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Veasna fled to Thailand in early 2020 after being accused, in April 2021 as Samnang, of inciting the practice of a serious crime and obstructing measures against covid-19. Robertson remarks that the charge related to the pandemic may have to do with the criticism he made on social networks of the containment regulations adopted by the Government.

Lanh was arrested in Thailand on November 19 and sent to Cambodia the next day. She was accused in 2017 of encouraging a crime of treason, so that same year she fled her country. This activist is an active member of the CNRP and was elected head of a commune in Banteay Meanchey province in the 2017 elections. She was actively involved in promoting the return of exiled CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, for which Robertson thinks she was accused for political reasons.

Thailand does not face any consequences for the expulsions, except damage to its reputation

Andrea Giorgetta, Asia Director for the International Federation for Human Rights

UNHCR’s regional spokeswoman for Asia and the Pacific, Catherine Stubberfield, expressed in an email that they are seeking “urgent clarification” from the Thai authorities about the circumstances that led to these expulsions and why they occurred.

However, after the departure of these three activists, “Thailand does not face any consequences, except for damage to its reputation,” explains Giorgetta, from FIDH, and recalls that, less than two weeks ago, the Government informed the community international that he is not carrying out deportations. This announcement was made public a day after the Veasna and Samnang returns.

Giorgetta explains that the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth, and his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, both known for being authoritarian leaders, “have agreed not to allow anti-government activities to take place in the Cambodian and Thai territories. by their respective dissidents ”. In his opinion, these exiles are a direct consequence of this agreement, especially considering that they have occurred at a time of great repression against dissidents that began before the 2018 general elections.

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HRW’s Robertson shares a similar view to Giorgetta’s, stating that the arrest and forced return of these three refugees shows that the “trade exchange” agreement between the Cambodian and Thai authorities is operating “at full speed”, overlooking the protection and rights of refugees.

The human rights expert details that Hun Sen seeks to arrest CNRP exiles in Bangkok, with which some of his advisers met with the Thai authorities to reach an agreement. He believes that this “nefarious arrangement” seeks to detain those who can and, in the process, make all the other exiles of the CNRP in Thailand try to resettle in a third country.

Roberston also thinks that it is no coincidence that Hun Sen’s offensive against the CNRP comes as preparations for the 2022 national communal elections are underway. The Cambodian president and his party, the PPC, “have traditionally repressed activists politicians and rights defenders in the run-up to the elections ”and maintains that they continue to operate in the same direction.

For Robertson, the big question is what the international community is going to do to respond to these “flagrant violations” of refugee protection that are both “outrageous and unacceptable”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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