CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday urged the Thai government to stop arbitrarily and indefinitely detaining migrant children, including Burmese, in violation of international law.
In a 67-page report launched in Bangkok, the US-based international rights group details how Thailand’s immigration detention centers violate children’s rights, risk their health and well-being, and imperil their development.
Thailand is home to an estimated 375,000 migrant children, according to the International Organization for Migration, and those in detention often suffer physical and emotional harm, according to the HRW report.
Alice Farmer, the children’s rights researcher at HRW, told The Irrawaddy that about one-third of the 105 people interviewed for the report were Burmese children and adults.
She said some migrant children from Burma were locked up in Bangkok’s immigration detention centers for days, weeks or even years. Some refugee children, including Rohingya Muslim children from western Burma, “may be held indefinitely, as it is not possible for them to be sent back to Burma,” she added.
The report highlighted that newborn infants and toddlers are among those detained in squalid conditions and with inadequate access to education, nutrition and other basics services.
“Children are held with unrelated adults in violation of international law. Families are often split up,” Farmer said. “Cells are squalid, with broken toilets, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient mattresses and blankets. They are sometime so overcrowded that children do not have room to lie down and sleep. Children lack adequate access to primary education and sometimes have as little as an hour or two of outdoor recreation time per week.”
Despite limited reforms in immigration detention centers, she said conditions remained about as dire as they were in 2008, when HRW began documenting rights abuses faced by migrants and refugees in Thailand.
Sometimes migrant children reach out to the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok for help.
“The embassy assists the children of the migrants whose parents have lost their legal documents due to accidents,” Win Maung, the Burmese ambassador to Thailand, told The Irrawaddy. He said that if migrants or their advocates contacted the embassy regarding the detention of migrant children, he would speak to the Thai government on their behalf.
“We have had a committee comprising diplomats and NGO [representatives] working in Bangkok to protect [Burmese] migrants since 2009, and any migrants can contact us,” he said.
Farmer said Thailand could adopt alternatives to its current form of detention that would better protect children’s rights, as in the Philippines and other countries.
“The solution is to provide family shelters, bail programs or programs that allow for release upon recognizance,” she said. “Such solutions in fact cost less than detention.”