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09BANGKOK3145 A KEY, IF SOMETIMES RELUCTANT, PARTNER

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“239893”,”12/15/2009 9:41″,”09BANGKOK3145″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”09BANGKOK213|09BANGKOK611|09BANGKOK690|09BANGKOK706″,”VZCZCXRO6284

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH

DE RUEHBK #3145/01 3490941

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 150941Z DEC 09

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9279

INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2180″,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 003145

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND PRM/ANE, PRM/A

GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/10/2019

TAGS: PREF, PHUM, TH, BM

SUBJECT: THAILAND: A KEY, IF SOMETIMES RELUCTANT, PARTNER

IN REFUGEE AFFAIRS

REF: A. BANGKOK 213 (MIL-MIL)

B. BANGKOK 706 (LAW ENFORCEMENT)

C. BANGKOK 611 (DISEASE RESEARCH)

D. BANGKOK 690 (REGIONAL MANAGEMENT PLATFORM)

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, for Reasons 1.4 (b and d.)

INTRODUCTION AND COMMENT

————————

1. (C) Introduction: Thailand is one of our closest partners

on refugee affairs, having hosted perhaps the largest number

of long-term refugees in the world over the past four

decades. Over the past thirty-five years, some half-million

refugees have moved through Thailand to resettle in third

countries, predominantly in the United States; no other

nation can make that claim. Nevertheless, Thailand has never

signed the 1951 Geneva Convention and has often proven a

reluctant partner in providing refuge and facilitating onward

passage to willing third countries on the full set of terms

we would prefer. The history of vulnerable groups entering

Thailand continues due to the poor governance and repressive

policies of its neighbors near and occasionally afar, as well

as Thailand\’s reputation for tolerance/lax enforcement; as a

result, the Royal Thai Government (RTG) maintains its

traditional concerns about being inundated by new inflows of

what it calls displaced persons.

2. (C) In practice, the RTG makes practical accommodations

towards certain vulnerable populations, while other arrivals

are formally regarded as illegal migrants with little

recourse to international standards of refugee protection.

Camp-resident Burmese minorities, currently numbering about

150,000 and in Thailand in large numbers since 1990, are

generally not returned to Burma, and the RTG has established

an asylum mechanism to consider their cases. The large scale

resettlement program of Karen and Karenni Burmese to the U.S.

receives Thai support. Other arrivals – North Koreans, Lao

Hmong, Rohyinga boat people, politically sensitive Chinese

and Vietnamese, and a virtual United Nations of \”urban cases\”

in Bangkok – are all officially subject to detention and

deportation, although in practice there are gradations of

treatment for each group. Such differences are based on the

RTG\’s weighting of the value of the bilateral relations with

the country of origin, and the personalities in charge at the

National Security Council (NSC) and Immigration Bureau.

Advocacy for non-Burmese groups involves intervention with

RTG officials in several different ministries.

3. (C) Comment. While there has long been a legal gray zone

in Thailand for vulnerable groups, we have generally been

able to achieve our objectives over the years working

persistently and quietly, often with multiple, simultaneous

challenges, from established populations likely to be

resettled to time-sensitive dissident/asylum cases. Our

advocacy goal on vulnerable groups in Thailand is to

encourage basic protections, to include non-refoulement, in

line with the 1951 Convention on Refugees, to which the RTG

is not a signatory. Thailand agreed to resettlement of the

largest group, ethnic minority Burmese, in 2005, thus

enabling us to provide the first available durable solution

for that static refugee situation.

4. (C) Comment, cont: Given the wide range of refugee-related

interests in Thailand, we must occasionally balance optimal

outcomes in a specific case with our equities in other

programs which depend on the same decision-makers and

relationships. This dynamic is currently in play as we head

to a seeming resolution of the Lao Hmong populations. With

the investment of political capital, we can eventually win

permission for high-profile individual cases to depart

Thailand, including political dissidents from China and

Vietnam. This cable is the final of a series which examines

crucial operational elements of the broad and deep U.S.-Thai

relationship that benefit U.S. interests; previous messages

have examined the mil-mil relationship; law enforcement

cooperation; health/disease research; and use of Thailand as

a regional management hub (Refs A-D). End Introduction and

Comment.

Ambivalent Attitudes Toward \”Refugees\”

————————————–

5. (SBU) Buffeted by the winds from thirty years of armed

conflict and near genocide in neighboring countries, Royal

BANGKOK 00003145 002 OF 005

Thai Government (RTG) attitudes towards vulnerable groups

entering Thailand are informed by a fear of being inundated

with new refugee inflows. RTG anxiety and conflicting

attitudes towards vulnerable people arriving in Thailand are

reflected in the language used by officials. The nine

established refugee camps, which have housed over a hundred

thousand ethnic minorities from Burma for almost two decades,

are officially referred to as \”temporary transit centers,\”

and the refugees themselves as \”temporarily displaced

persons.\” However, with UNHCR assistance the RTG has

established Provincial Admissions Boards (PABs), an asylum

mechanism which considers whether individual cases should be

allowed to stay in the camps.

6. (SBU) RTG attitudes are simpler for the other, smaller

vulnerable populations in Thailand – Lao Hmong, North

Koreans, Rohingya boat people, Chinese and Vietnamese

political dissidents, and people fleeing unrest in Somalia,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. All are formally

considered as illegal migrants subject to detention and

deportation to the last country of embarkation, and no

domestic asylum mechanism exists to hear their cases. But

even within this non-Burmese universe of refugees, there are

gradations of treatment. RTG cooperation is provided to the

Republic of Korea in \”deporting\” arriving North Koreans to

Seoul, rather than to China (usually the last country of

residence) or to North Korea. Asylum seekers confined in the

main IDC in Bangkok are generally not deported if the

individuals managed to contact UNHCR and begin the refugee

status determination process before their arrest on

immigration law violations.

The Groups: The Burmese

———————–

7. (SBU) The sheer weight of numbers of ethnic minority

Burmese entering Thailand, primarily to escape village

relocation campaigns by the Burmese military (and associated

forced labor), forces practical accommodations on the part of

the RTG. About 130,000 are registered with UNHCR and the

RTG, but it is thought that some 20-50,000 additional people

are in the camps. New arrivals fleeing fighting are not

forced to return to Burma. In June, for example, about 2,000

Karen Burmese entered Thailand when attacked by a Burmese

government-backed militia and were allowed to remain in a

temporary site on Thai soil.

8. (SBU) The PABs were established in the late 1990\’s to

review whether arriving ethnic minorities from Burma are

\”fleeing fighting\” and should be allowed to stay in the

camps. At UNHCR\’s urging, \”fleeing political violence\” has

recently been added to the PAB screening criteria, and has

begun to be used in practice. In 2004-2005 the PABs formally

admitted almost all of the ethnic Burmese minorities in the

camps. A second round of PAB screening was completed in four

pilot camps in November, and the remaining five camps will be

processed in the first half of 2010. An estimated 30,000 or

so new refugees will be permitted to stay, partially

replacing the 54,000 who have departed for third country

resettlement-the great majority to the U.S.

Third Country Resettlement for Burmese

————————————–

9. (SBU) In 2005, the RTG agreed to allow a large-scale third

country resettlement program for ethnic minority Burmese. In

FY09, 14,300 refugees entered the U.S. from Thailand, one of

the largest such resettlement programs worldwide. About half

of the current population of refugees has expressed interest

in US resettlement. Although mildly disappointed that the

large scale program has not \”emptied\” the camps, the RTG

continues to support the effort as a measure to ease crowding

(and related tensions) in the largest facilities.

10. (SBU) The long term solution to the plight of the ethnic

Burmese refugees in Thailand is improvement in the human

rights situation in Burma. In the interim, donor attention

is focused on reducing their dependency on donor aid.

Refugees in Thailand are not permitted to work or travel

outside the camps, although in practice many in the larger,

more accessible camps do so. The RTG has been resistant to

attempts to link the major resettlement effort to a policy

change allowing limited steps towards self-sufficiency for

refugees. We have begun, along with other major donors in the

established camps, an advocacy campaign to leverage our

BANGKOK 00003145 003 OF 005

substantial investment in the resettlement program to

increase the policy space for refugees to work and grow food

outside the camps.

The Lao Hmong: Petchabun and Nong Khai

————————————–

11.(C) RTG policy towards Lao Hmong entering Thailand is

formed by the particular history of this group, and the

fervent desire to deter new arrivals. Some of the remaining

4,200 Lao Hmong in the army-run facility in Petchabun

province were drawn to Thailand by a U.S. resettlement

program in 2004-2005 of 15,000 Hmong from a long-established

settlement at Wat Tham Krabok. Others are longer-resident,

having migrated from Laos in the 1980\’s and 90\’s to live with

kinship groups of Thai Hmong. Nervous that a new third

country resettlement program would draw further numbers from

Laos, the National Security Council (NSC) directed that all

Lao Hmong should be treated as illegal migrants and returned

to Laos. A 2007 MOU with Laos stipulates that the group

should be returned by December 30, 2009.

12. (C) Actual implementation of the policy for the large

Petchabun group is in the hands of the Royal Thai Armed

Forces Headquarters (RTARF), which treats the issue as one of

several (including drug and contraband trafficking) addressed

in a regular Thai-Lao bilateral border commission. Over the

past 18 months, about 2,800 people from Petchabun have been

returned by the RTARF to Laos, induced by a combination of

monetary incentives and threats of forcible deportation.

Recent RTG pronouncements indicate that the remaining

population – including some 500-plus identified in an

internal screening process in January 2008 as having

protection concerns – may well be returned to Laos in the

coming weeks.

13. (C) A second humanitarian situation is presented by the

detention of 158 Lao Hmong (including 87 children) in the

small immigration jail at Nong Khai, along the border with

Laos. The RTG attempted to deport the group, which has

received UNHCR refugee status, in 2006. The forced return

was stopped mid-stream after international community

objections, and the group has languished in Nong Khai for

three years. We have eased the crowding by constructing a

temporary day-time rest facility outside the IDC and are

funding nurse and teacher visits by IOM. In order to find a

solution for this group, we have begun discussing with UNHCR

(and other resettlement countries) the possibility of a

exceptional, transit-in-Laos mechanism for third country

resettlement. The concept rests on the willingness of the

refugees to participate, which in turn will depend on the

credibility of security guarantees by the Government of Laos

during a planned short stay in Laos. Another 267

UNHCR-recognized Lao Hmong refugees live freely in Lopburi

province and Bangkok, and their fate complicates any solution

for the Nong Khai group.

Asia\’s Boat People: The Rohingya

——————————–

14. (SBU) The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group historically

resident in Burma\’s Northern Rakhine State along the border

with Bangladesh, are a de jure stateless people stripped of

even the most basic civil rights by the Burmese regime. For

several years, many Rohingya men have set sail in rudimentary

vessels from Burma and Bangladesh in an attempt to reach

hoped-for employment in Malaysia. The first inhabited

islands encountered on the sea route belong to Thailand, and

many boats landed there. In November 2008, local military

commanders decided to begin pushing back to sea new arrivals

as a deterrent. Lacking resources, local civil defense

groups (typically local villagers) were given brief crowd

control training and charged with rounding up and returning

the Rohingya back to sea.

15. (SBU) Immediately after the first press reports surfaced

of the push-backs in January 2009, we visited the arrival

sites, advocating better treatment of the Rohingya boat

people with local civilian defense volunteers and Thai

military officials. The temporary policy was quickly

abandoned, and the inhabitants of the next boat to arrive

were turned over to immigration officials for normal

processing. UNHCR was given access, and after the death of

two of the detainees in a local immigration detention center

(IDC) the group was moved to Bangkok\’s main IDC in August,

BANGKOK 00003145 004 OF 005

where they remain. It appears this more humane policy will

be followed during the upcoming sailing season (November to

May, when seas are calmer.) We do not yet know what the

ultimate disposition for this group will be.

The North Koreans

—————–

16. (C) Reflecting its pragmatic approach to certain

vulnerable groups, the RTG permits North Koreans entering

Thailand illegally to resettle in the Republic of Korea (ROK)

and, in much smaller numbers, in the U.S. The accommodation

takes into account the relatively small numbers (1-2,000 per

year), concerns regarding overcrowding in Bangkok\’s main

immigration jail, and effective lobbying by the ROK

government, an important trade partner and market for Thai

labor. The special policy is publicly presented by the RTG as

\”Koreans being deported to Korea\”, with geographic

distinctions between North and South conveniently blurred.

UNHCR is not permitted a protection or refugee status

determination role by the RTG. The \”deportation\” requires

that all North Koreans are required to report to immigration

detention before they are allowed to depart Thailand.

Detention time depends on processing speed, and is currently

is about 3-4 weeks for ROK-bound cases.

17. (C) U.S.-bound cases fortunate enough to have avoided

arrest by Thai police can wait out processing steps in

private accommodation or a local NGO shelter, and then enter

the IDC when travel-ready to pay the fine and be \”deported\”

via Seoul. For those arrested before U.S. processing is

complete, waits in immigration detention can be months-long.

After Ambassadorial meetings with the Immigration

Commissioner, we are now generally able to gain access for

the required U.S. processing steps to be completed. We are

working with IOM to improve physical conditions in the IDC\’s

cells, and to provide medical care for the detainees. As of

December 13, only six North Korean cases/seven individuals

remained in the active U.S pipeline in Thailand. Stricter

control along the China-North Korea border, and refugee

disenchantment with the longer wait times (compared to the

ROK processing) needed for the U.S. resettlement program,

appear to be the causes of the decline in numbers.

The Political Dissidents (PRC and Vietnam)

——————————————

18. (C) High-profile political dissidents from Vietnam and

China make their way, either alone or more often with the

help of advocacy NGOs, to Bangkok in an attempt to gain U.S.

resettlement. (Note: Political activists from Burma, found

mostly in the town of Mae Sot along the border, are not

allowed to resettle unless they are in an established camp.

Few enter, as they enjoy far greater freedom of movement and

communications outside. End Note.) Vietnamese and Chinese

dissidents normally enter Thailand without passport and/or

visa, subjecting them to arrest and setting the scene for

high-level interventions with RTG policy makers to enable

them to depart Thailand. A recent case, involving the family

of a prominent Chinese dissident, required the Ambassador\’s

personal intervention with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

19. (C) The procedure for obtaining the exit permit in such

cases is deliberately left unclear, and in practice we must

make separate, simultaneous representations to the National

Security Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the

Immigration Commissioner. All cases require, at a minimum,

payment of a fine for illegal entry into Thailand. Ideally,

approvals are received from more than one bureaucracy,

although ultimately the Immigration Commissioner is the key

player: like any refugee, dissidents must pass through

immigration departure at the main airport before leaving

Thailand for the U.S. The process, which can take several

weeks, takes significant investment of political capital on

our part. Our requests cannot be repeated too often to avoid

the perception that we are organizing an \”underground

railroad\” of politically sensitive cases through Thailand.

Low-key discretion without publicity is also key,

particularly given Thailand\’s desire to improve relations

with countries it viewed a generation ago as adversaries.

The Urban Cases: Bangkok as Asia\’s Crossroads

———————————————

20. (SBU) UNHCR currently has 2,000 so-called \”urban cases\”

BANGKOK 00003145 005 OF 005

on its books in Bangkok, a catch-all category which includes

Chinese Falun Gong, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Khmer Krom, West

Africans, and others. All are attracted to Thailand by its

status as a regional transportation hub, and its reputation

as a center for fraudulent documents and lax law enforcement.

The common denominator for urban cases is that many are in

immigration detention in Bangkok\’s main jail, a crowded,

dismal facility. Many spend months there, frozen in place by

the lack of options for their departure. Access for

resettlement waxes and wanes depending on the personal

policies of the Immigration Commissioner. Until September

2008, access (and therefore resettlement) was strictly

limited. Since then, a new commissioner has proven more

flexible, and we receive regular referrals from UNHCR.

Access by our other partners in the refugee resettlement

program (USCIS, IOM and Overseas Processing Entity) is

normally permitted without significant delay.

Regional Refugee Work out of the Bangkok platform

——————————————— —-

21. (U) This message has focused on our efforts on refugee

protection and resettlement in Thailand, as part of a series

of deep and broad operational partnerships forged with Thai

counterparts over the past several decades (reftels). In

common with many other Mission Thailand sections, the Refugee

and Migration Affairs office has a regional role as well. A

large refugee resettlement program from Malaysia (over 5,000

people this FY) is managed from Bangkok, and we travel also

to Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, and China to assist smaller

refugee populations.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 14, 2011 at 2:02 am

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