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Thailand's real refugee problem - an interview

Earlier this month I made contact with a Thai national who has been granted refugee status in the UK. She lives in a simple house, on a typical street, in a very typical, provincial English town. “Tan” (her identity, for her protection, remains anonymous) endured so many threats to her person from people she asserts were connected to the extremist right-wing yellow-shirted PAD, that she felt forced to flee Thailand and seek refuge in a different country. Her claim for refugee status was accepted by UK authorities (substantial evidence needs to be produced for the UK authorities to accept someone as a “refugee”) and she now has leave to remain in the UK for five years.

What readers need to be reminded of is that while the Red Shirts have been ruthlessly crushed by the Thai state, any equivalent action by the extreme right-wing PAD and their yellow-shirted supporters goes completely unpunished by the Thai state. The PAD and their supporters are seemingly free to commit acts of violence and intimidation with complete impunity. In effect, the question remains - are the violent, extremist PAD acting on behalf of powerful elements within the Thai regime? And, if so, can Thai nationals expect protection from the Thai state, under the rule of law, when threatened by the PAD? The only answer at the moment, and the UK authorities seem to agree, is that no, they can’t. (A Thai version of this interview is available here)

“I am a citizen of Thailand and I graduated with a Masters Degree from Thammasart University, Bangkok, Thailand in 2006. After graduating I was employed as a researcher with an international N.G.O. I left Thailand in early 2009. I had received death threats on my personal mobile phone. My husband received abuse by post to his office and other threats from supporters of the 2006 military coup. The political situation in Thailand had been deteriorating for some time and there were serious concerns about the lack of justice and the lack of rule of law. Violent political acts by the Yellow Shirted PAD were taking place nearly every day and repressive laws were being used to silence critics of the government. I left all my belongings in my home in Bangkok, arriving with only one small suitcase. I had to resign from my job and leave my friends and family behind. I have never lived outside Thailand before.

I applied for political asylum in the U.K. on the basis that if I returned to Thailand, I would be at risk of persecution from non-State and State actors due to my own political activities and to my close association with my husband. Since the year 2000 we had written books and article together and had collaborated on a number of Human Rights projects. Neither of us has ever been involved in violent acts. We merely stood up for Democracy and Human Rights and opposed the military coup in 2006 and the subsequent destruction of Democracy.

The non-State actors that I refer to are supporters of the fascist PAD who took over and wrecked Government House, used violence and weapons outside Parliament and took control of the two international airports in 2008. As an NGO activist I personally knew many PAD supporters and they knew me well enough to make death threats to my mobile phone and to make abusive comments to my face when I was carrying out my NGO duties.

Over the phone, these people said things like: “Watch it... you are going to be disappeared”... “You’ll catch a bullet”.... “look around you when you travel, you’re going to be disappeared”.  I tried to ignore these threats at the time, in order to maintain some level of sanity. PAD websites, like the ASTV website had a habit of publishing peoples’ personal details and encouraging violence towards Red Shirt pro-democracy activists. Persecution by State and non-State actors includes violent assault, injury or death, but also degrading behaviour.

I had to show the British authorities that I was at risk of persecution from non-State and State actors because of the total break down in the rule of law and the increased political violence in Thailand since the coup of 2006. The political violence since 2006 was perpetrated mainly by the Thai State, but also by PAD supporters. It included soldiers firing on unarmed protestors, assassination attempts against activists and the planting of bombs. The number of political prisoners was also rapidly increasing. I had to prove that there was a serious deterioration in Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Thailand which would result in both my persecution and lack of sufficient protection by the Thai State.  I was able to show that the present Government is staffed by PAD members and backed by the army. Prominent British academics and Human Rights activists wrote letters supporting my application for refugee status. I also quoted many international Human Rights reports and authoritative newspaper articles.

 I now have refugee status and the right to remain in Britain for five years. I am currently studying English.”

(Part 2 14 Oct 2010)

There have been some questions raised as to the veracity of the interview I conducted with the Thai refugee in the UK, “Tan”, published here on Asian Correspondent yesterday.

In light of this I would like to say the following.

All refugees to the UK who hold a passport from their home countries are given a five-year residence permit once they’ve passed through the substantial checks conducted by the UK Border Agency. Details of this process can be found here. On the back of the residence permit another document confirms the person’s refugee status. Images of both of Tan's documents are published below

In addition, this residence permit entitles those accorded refugee status all the same welfare benefits, access to education and other privileges that go with being a British Citizen or resident.

If a Thai spouse arrives in the UK with a British husband they must first apply for a “settlement visa” which lasts just over two years. During this period a spouse does not have access to the same rights and privileges as those in the UK under a residence permit. Only after this two-year period is complete can a spouse then apply for a residence permit.

While it might be unpalatable to believe that Thai nationals may be in such danger from the Thai state or groups who receive protection from the Thai state (eg the PAD) that they have to flee to another country, it is, however, now a reality.



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