back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

11 June 2020 – Thailand

Rohingya Refugees Sit Behind Bars at a Police Station in Satun Province, Thailand, (AP Photo,
Rohingya Refugees Sit Behind Bars at a Police Station in Satun Province, Thailand, (AP Photo, "Thailand: Let UN Refugee Agency Screen Rohingya," 21 May 2020,

In mid-May, the governor of the Tak Province in Thailand issued a warning about the movement of Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh entering Thailand, stating that this posed a purported Covid-19-related threat. The announcement stated: “Tak is a province bordering the country of Myanmar that has movements of [migrant] workers, and also the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar and Bangladesh is still happening, and patients are still being found. Muslim people from both countries are expected to move to Tak Province.”

The announcement coincided with stepped up efforts in Tak Province to arrest undocumented migrants and refugees. Between 7 May and 1 June, Thai security arrested 35 Rohingya, including six women and 16 children, in the town Mae Sot in Tak Province, at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. They were being held at Tak Immigration Office in Thailand. Thai authorities have denied that the detainees are ethnic Rohingya, instead alleging they are “Myanmar Muslims.” However, the human rights organization Fortify Rights claims to have verified that the 35 people are Rohingya from Myanmar, and had previously travelled overland for approximately one to three months from Rakhine State and camps in Cox’s Bazar before arriving in the country. At least four Rohingya reportedly died en route. Reportedly, brokers collected payments of 500,000 to 900,000 Myanmar Kyat (about US$350 to US$645) for transportation to Malaysia and required some to provide further payments upon arrival in Malaysia.

Human Rights Watch estimates that approximately 200 Rohingya are being held in immigration detention and other facilities across Thailand. In May, it called on the Thai government to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unhindered access to Rohingya from Myanmar to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. Fortify Rights have called on the Thai government to protect Rohingya refugees from forced return and indefinite detention, and to screen them to determine if they are survivors of trafficking.

On 8 May, Human Rights Watch reported that at least 65 (out of 115) detainees in Thailand’s Songkhla immigration detention center – including 18 ethnic Rohingya women and children – had tested positive for Covid-19. At least 18 of these detainees are refugees who have been detained since 2015. Officials traced the infection cluster to an immigration officer who worked at Sadao border checkpoint and visited the center, who later tested positive for the virus. Songkhla governor Jaruwat Kliangklao said that the infected detainees would be treated until fully recovered before being deported to their respective countries. He said that the detention facility would be turned into a field hospital for the purpose of providing medical treatment to infected detainees.