BANGKOK – According to reports from Human Rights Watch Thailand’s immigration detention centers are squalid and in 2013 were severely overcrowded. In 2013, eight people died in detention from apparent poor health conditions exacerbated by extreme heat and lack of access to health care.
Human Rights Watch research found that Thailand has inadequate screening procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, so in a number of cases, there were boys left in immigration detention centers with unrelated adults according to Alice Farmer, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch investigated conditions in some Thai immigration detention centers and shelters in mid-2013. While conditions in the closed Social Development Ministry shelters were better than those in the immigration detention centers, there were still numerous problems. Children were separated from male relatives, with little or no visitation opportunities, and in some cases, no information about the location of their family members. Children in shelters had little or no access to education.
The Thai government should urgently close down the camps in southern Thailand and prosecute government officials found to be complicit in trafficking from them, Human Rights Watch said. The government has an obligation under international law not to return Arakan (Rohingya) seeking asylum to Burma before first making a fair assessment of their claims. If the Burmese government refuses to accept the return of stateless Arakan migrants, the Thai government should release them as there is no legitimate reason to detain people solely for immigration violations who cannot be repatriated.
For those individuals who are detained, the government should urgently improve its screening for unaccompanied migrant children and ensure that those children are not held in detention with unrelated adults. It should accommodate Arakan (Rohingya) asylum-seeking children and their families in open shelters with guaranteed freedom of movement, and provide children access to education.
“Thailand is detaining Arakan (Rohingya) children and leaving them vulnerable to the risk of trafficking,” Farmer said. “As boat traffic picks up, it’s vital that Thai authorities find solutions to keep Arakan children with their families in open centers, and provide them access to school.”
Human Rights Watch conducted research in Thai immigration detention centers and shelters in June-August 2013, interviewing some 100 detainees and witnesses, including several Arakans. Our research found that many immigration detention centers in Thailand are severely overcrowded, with detainees having limited access to medical services and other basic necessities. In some cases, authorities restricted Arakan detainees, including unaccompanied boys, in cramped conditions in small cells, with barely room to sit.
As of August 2013, some had been kept in cells for five months without any access to recreational space. Some suffered from swollen feet and what appeared to be withered leg muscles because of lack of exercise. Eight Arakan (Rohingya) men died from illness while in detention in 2013. While intervention by international agencies had improved medical care somewhat after these deaths, detainees still face unacceptable risks to their health due to poor detention conditions.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which provides authoritative interpretations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has stated that children should never be detained because of their immigration status. Unaccompanied children, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse in detention as they lack anyone to protect them, should never be held with unrelated adults.