In amongst all the media and political frenzy regarding the Tamil asylum seekers refusing to get off some boats in Indonesia, a much greater and more problematic stand-off has been occurring in Thailand.
160 Hmong people, originally from Laos, have been kept in a detention centre in Thailand for the past three years. Despite the UNHCR saying the people have been recognised as refugees, and four countries – Australia, Canada, the USA and the Netherlands – offering to resettle them, the Thai government considers them to be “economic migrants” and proposes returning them to Laos.
This report from a year ago provides a bigger picture of the sort of long running abuses in Thailand. It details thousands of Hmong refugees who have been locked up for years, agreements being signed between the Thai and Laos governments to return the “economic migrants” and refusals by Thai authorities to allow the UNHCR to enter the detention centres to make refugee assessments and determinations.
It is necessary for the Australian government to continue to work with Indonesia and other countries in our region to find workable compassionate approaches to the large number of asylum seekers in the area.
But Australia must not be complicit in facilitating human rights violations or mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees (or unauthorised migrants for that matter). We should also get out of the habit of turning a blind eye to what other governments in our region are doing.
The more we know about what happens elsewhere in our region, the more obvious it becomes why refugees would risk their lives and rack up large debts to try to find safety in Australia.