On 17 April, while the people of Thailand were enjoying the long holidays for the New Year and Songkran water festival, two Burmese migrants were found dead in the back of a deportation vehicle. Mr Maungg Soe (25), and Ms Ma Mi Lar (36) were two of 62 migrants being deported from the Sadao Immigration office, in Songkhla Province, southern Thailand to Burma via the Mae Sot border crossing. While the breaking news reports suggested that the migrants died as a result of having been crammed into an overcroweded truck during hot weather, the exact causes of death have yet to be verified.[i]
Subsequent enquiries by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN)* with the Mae Sot immigration as well as police departements confirmed that the deportation vehicle left Sadao on 16 April and arrived at Mae Sot the following day. The immigration officer responsible for overseeing the operation has at the time of writing yet to be interviewed in relation to the incident. A Mae Sot police source also said that the bodies of the two dead migrants and the other deportees, including the relatives of the deceased, had already been deported from Thailand.
The MMN is deeply concerned over these tragic deaths and the subsequent actions of the Thai authorities. The deaths raise serious questions about the safety and treatment of migrants held in Thailand’s deportation process. Between 2005 and 2008, MMN conducted collaborative research on the use of Arrest, Detention and Deportation (ADD) in the six Mekong countries.[ii] In this study we found that migrants are commonly held for unacceptably long periods aboard vehicles used in the deportation process and that they generally have very limited access to medical care.
Thailand is party to a number of international treaties pertinent to the treatment of persons in detention. They include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Furthermore, in accordance with the UN’s Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment: “All persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person".
In July 2010, MMN made urgent representations to the office of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants to draw attention to four separate incidents in which 23 vulnerable migrants lost their lives in immigration detention or during enforcement action carried out by the Thai authorities. MMN is not aware that any steps have been taken to prosecute the officers responsible for these tragic incidents.
In response to the latest tragedy, MMN urges the Royal Thai Government to:
1. Immediately conduct a full and impartial investigation of this tragic event including the situation of detention of the migrants prior to deportation, the health care and treatment received by the migrants who subsequently died and the conditions of transportation;
2. Urgently support autopsies of the two migrants who died to establish the cause of death;
3. Facilitate access to justice for the families of the victims including compensation;
4. Provide medical checks, treatment and care including voluntary access to counselling for all the migrants who were in the vehicle and who may also be sick and/or traumatised;
5. Ensure that all those whose actions or negligence caused or contributed to the deaths of the two migrants are punished according to the law;
6. Review the arrest, detention and deportation procedures to ensure that they protect the rights of migrants and respect their dignity. Take immediate steps to ensure that the deportation of migrants is governed by laws that are in compliance with international standards.