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03 December 2021 – Thailand

Doctors Putting Protective Equipment Before Entering Sadao Immigration Detention Centre in April 2020 (National Health Security Office,
Doctors Putting Protective Equipment Before Entering Sadao Immigration Detention Centre in April 2020 (National Health Security Office, "โควิด-19 : จำนวนผู้ต้องกักใน ตม.สะเดาที่ติดเชื้อไวรัสโคโรนาเพิ่มจาก 42 เป็น 60 รายในเวลาไม่ถึง 2 สัปดาห์," BBC News, 28 April 2020,

As of 30 November 2021, Thailand had registered more than two million cases of COVID-19 and more than 20,000 related deaths. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that in September 2021, there were a total of 28,810 cases among migrants from Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Myanmar (CLM) in the country. The number of positive cases among CLM migrants accounted for 9 percent (138,487) of all cases in Thailand.

The Ministry of Public Health Immunisation Centre reported that on 30 September 2021, 1,339,761 vaccine doses had been administered to foreign nationals in the country, representing 3 percent of the total number of doses administered by that time. On 22 September 2021, Thai authorities informed the IOM that immigration detention centres throughout the country had been experiencing an increase in positive COVID-19 cases (see also the 9 August 2021 Thailand update on this platform). According to the IOM, In addition, vaccine doses were provided to detainees in the Phangnga immigration detention centre. The IOM also said that is has provided medicines, hygiene items, and PPE at 11 immigration detention centres in the provinces of Ranong, Songkhla, Phangnga, Chiang Rai, Trat, Chanthaburi, Nonthaburi, Kanchanaburi, Prachaud Khiri Khan, and Tak.

As part of a US initiative to donate vaccine doses in conflict zones, Johnson & Johnson doses went to the border of Thailand and Myanmar in December through the COVAX programme, with many doses going to individuals in refugee camps on the border.

Earlier, in late 2020, the Thai government reported that it had put in place some precautions to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Immigration officers were ordered to wear face masks or face shields and gloves, to check the temperature of new arrivals and observe whether they display symptoms, and new detainees were to be placed in a reception cell for 15 days to observe whether they had any COVID-19 symptoms and visits were to be suspended. However, NGO reports indicated that the centres remained overcrowded and social distancing was virtually impossible. Detainees were not provided with masks, soap or hand sanitisers in several of the detention centres across Thailand, including Suan Phlu, Prachuap Kirikhan, Maesot, and Ranong.

According to the Refugee Rights Network (RRN), reforms in the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants that could serve as additional safeguards during the pandemic have not been properly implemented, including with respect to the use of non-custodial measures. A Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centres (ATD MOU) resulted in the release of some 230 women and children from immigration detention during 2019-2020. However, according to RRN, officials inappropriately referred to use of a “Day Care Centre” within an immigration detention facility as an “alternative to detention.” Also, certain Rohingya children as well as other children whose asylum cases at UNHCR are closed are being excluded from community-based ATDs and as a result, many of them are held in government shelters without any other solution. According to the International Detention Coalition (IDC), during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thai government did not increase the use of non-custodial alternatives to detention and kept the same bail policy as before: only those with serious medical conditions, and mothers and children can be successfully bailed out of detention (through the ATD MOU). From May 2020 to November 2020, the IDC said that there had been no children who are persons of concern to UNHCR held in immigration detention. This nonetheless excludes the Rohingya women and children detained in Songkhla detention centre as reported by Human Rights Watch in May 2020.

Thailand has also continued to arrest and detain refugees under the Immigration Act B.E. 2522 and refugees have not benefited from visa amnesties for foreigners whose visas expired from 26 March 2020 as these do not apply to refugees who had already entered Thailand before January 2020. In July 2020, the Thai Immigration Bureau warned non-nationals stranded in the country who cannot leave before their visas expire to seek a letter from their embassies as otherwise they could be subject to overstay fines as well as arrest and detention by Thai authorities.

Thailand has continued issuing deportation orders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Reuters, Thai authorities have continued deporting people from Myanmar, arguing that it would curb the spread of the virus. Yet, many are believed to be refugees from the Rohingya ethnic minority. Meanwhile, Myanmar has reported cases of COVID-19 among people held in quarantine after being deported from Thailand.

On 9 November 2021, Thai immigration officials forcibly returned two Cambodian refugees to their country, putting them at risk of unfair trials in Cambodia. Thai police arrested both registered refugees, took them to a detention centre in Bangkok, and subsequently deported them the following day. UNHCR intervened on behalf of the two refugees to the Royal Thai Government prior to their deportation, with the expectation that the refugees would continue to receive protection in Thailand. UNHCR’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific said: “while we are seeking further clarifications on exactly what happened, we are deeply troubled by this deportation. I strongly urge the Thai authorities to investigate this matter. I appeal to Thailand to honour its fundamental international obligations, notably the principle of non-refoulement, and to refrain from such deportations in the future.” Human Rights Watch stated that “Thailand’s forcible return of these two refugees shows a blatant disregard for fundamental refugee protection principles. The Thai government’s actions make it complicit in the Cambodian government’s persecution of its political opponents, which appears to extend beyond Cambodia’s borders.” On 22 November, Reuters reported that both registered refugees had been jailed in Cambodia on charges of conspiracy and incitement. Cambodian police said that the refugees had violated immigration law in Thailand and Cambodia had not sought their deportation.

According to UNHCR data, in 2020, there were 96,179 refugees, 852 asylum seekers and 480,696 stateless persons in the country. Mid-year 2021 data demonstrates a large increase in the number of stateless persons: UNHCR estimates that there were more than 554,000 stateless persons in Thailand by July.