BANGKOK – Advocates for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers lauded a commitment by Thailand on Monday to release children held in its immigration detention centers.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said Thai government ministries involved with the issue signed a memorandum of understanding providing a framework to meet a 2016 pledge by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to end the practice of detaining migrant children.
The document is an agreement in principle and does not ensure how such children will be taken care of.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who is overseeing the country’s national security policy, said the MoU is aimed at stepping up efforts to ensure fair and just treatment of foreign children.
However he failed to disclose where the children would be sent after they are arrested but clarified that the National Security Council would act as a coordinating center on this.
The UNHCR and international and Thai advocacy groups are urging Thailand to take the commitment a step further and release mothers with their children in order not to separate families.
Giuseppe De Vincentiis, UNHCR’s representative in Thailand, called the agreement “a positive example of Thailand’s humanitarian approach to refugees and asylum seekers.”
“The framework only covers the release of children detained in immigration detention,” UNHCR said a statement. “However, mothers have also been released together with their children in their capacity as legal guardians. All over the world, UNHCR advocates that the child’s right to family life must be respected and that children should not be separated from their families except when such separation is necessary to protect the best interests of the child.”
Seven private advocacy groups also welcomed the agreement but said “further efforts are necessary to protect the best interests of the child and to bring Thai policy and practice in line with international standards.”
The memorandum “doesn’t address the separation of families, and detained refugee mothers are still required to pay exorbitant bail fees simply to reunite with their children, while fathers remain in detention,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, one of the seven groups that jointly issued a statement calling for further action.
The statement said that “migrant mothers are only granted release from immigration detention following a cash bail payment of 50,000 Thai baht ($1,500) to reunite with children in holding shelters.” It called the bail payment “exorbitant for most migrants and, particularly, refugees, who are prohibited from working in Thailand,” and added that the provision of bail does not extend to fathers of migrant children.