In recent times, the spotlight has turned to the plight of thousands of Pakistani Christians seeking asylum in Thailand, shedding light on the harsh realities of brutal arrests (click here) and detention in Thai Immigration detention centres (IDC) click here. It was only in 2015 that charities, including BACA, successfully advocated for the Royal Thai Government to establish a bail system for asylum seekers and refugees. This call arose in response to the distressing situation where hundreds of Christians found themselves confined in the Bangkok IDC (click here). The concern looms large that this seemingly humanitarian move might be a smokescreen for identifying and potentially arresting and deporting asylum seekers.
As Thailand prepares to roll out a new protection program for foreign asylum seekers, apprehensions are voiced by rights groups and refugees. The worry is that despite the program’s intention to provide refuge, many deserving candidates might either be rejected or deterred from applying due to the fear of arrest and deportation.
The absence of Thailand’s signature on the United Nations’ refugee convention has historically meant that asylum seekers and illegal immigrants were treated alike, perpetuating a constant fear of arrest and deportation. The United Nations estimates around 5,000 asylum seekers in Thailand, a number contested by rights groups who believe it to be higher. You can learn more on this BBC Documentary for which British Asian Christian Association was a contributor:
The recently introduced National Screening Mechanism (NSM), chaired by the national police chief, aims to assess applicants “unable or unwilling” to return home due to a genuine fear of persecution. While the broad definition of persecution is acknowledged, concerns linger about the program’s narrow eligibility criteria and vague grounds for rejection, potentially putting refugees at risk of abuse.
Another significant worry revolves around the opaque language in the screening rules, allowing the committee to reject applicants posing a “risk to national security” without clear parameters. This ambiguity raises concerns that rejections could be influenced by diplomatic considerations rather than genuine security threats.
Past instances of deportations, including the controversial return of Uyghurs to China, Pakistani Christians who were then re-arrested and convicted of blasphemy (click here) and political dissidents to Cambodia, contribute to a prevailing mistrust among asylum seekers. The fear of information sharing between governments and potential repercussions discourages many from applying for the new protection program.
Undocumented asylum seekers express concerns about potential arrests during the vetting process and the indefinite stay in immigration detention centers. While authorities claim applicants will be placed in shelters, the lack of a fixed timeframe for the vetting process exacerbates anxiety among asylum seekers.
Despite assurances from the police commander that rejected applicants will face repatriation, the practicality of repatriating stateless individuals remains uncertain. Acknowledging past abuses of the “national security” rationale, the new government promises corrective measures, but skepticism persists among asylum seekers and rights groups.
The evolving situation prompts a watchful eye on the implementation of the NSM, with hopes that it genuinely addresses the concerns of asylum seekers and prevents potential misuse of power.
In the interim, our ongoing aid appeal for distressed Christian families persists. Below, we present videos and images from the latest distribution efforts. Many of the beneficiaries were informed about the noteworthy achievement of our volunteer, Hannah Chowdhry, who received a ‘Leadership Trailblazer Award’ at the inaugural ‘This is Youth’ ceremony hosted by the Duke of Edinburgh Awards (click here). Expressing their gratitude, recipients have been actively engaged with Hannah, who has been steadfastly coordinating our aid program in Thailand for the past four years. You have the power to make a meaningful impact on our aid program by contributing through a donation link (here). Every contribution counts and helps us extend our support to those in need. In December, BACA plans to hold a special worship service and gift-giving for Children, aiming to distribute food bags to 100 attendees with your support.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for the British Asian Christian Association, stated:
“We, at BACA, along with numerous other NGOs, have been advocating for an Asylum Seeker/Refugee protection program since 2014 (click here) (click here). In 2016, we played a crucial role in assisting the Bangkok UNHCR in securing a grant of 300,000 Euros from the European Union (click here). They included excerpts from our 2015 report in their application, and we received appreciation from the then Senior Protection Officer, Peter Trotter.”
Mrs Chowdhry, added:
“Our collective efforts, spanning various organizations, are gradually influencing the mindset of the Royal Thai Authorities—a positive step forward. Nevertheless, our commitment to advocating for enhanced rights and security for those seeking refuge in Thailand from persecution remains unwavering.”