Return the exiled: People speak out for political refugees on World Refugee Day

People gathered in Bangkok to commemorate the World Refugee Day, 20 June, raising the issue of the recent disappearance case of an exiled Thai activist in Phnom Penh.

Participants raising photo of the Thai activists in exile.

At 5.00 pm on 20 June, about 15 people gathered at the Pathum Wan Skywalk to participate in a public event marking World Refugee Day. 40-50 police officers were present and were seen video-recording and photographing participants.

The event was organized by the People's Party for Freedom, the 24 June Democracy Movement and the Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation of Thailand. A few Rohingya refugees residing in Thailand also participated in the event.

Participants made speeches and displayed photos of Thai political refugees. Some participants put black plastic garbage bags over their heads to mimic the suffocation of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai political activist in exile who was kidnapped in Phnom Penh on 4 June. His last words were "Argh, I can't breath".

"Argh, can't breathe": Thai political exile kidnapped in Phnom Penh

Eneus Ahmad, a 53-year-old Rohingya refugee, said that he fled discrimination and persecution in Rakhine state, Myanmar, about 30 years ago and still cannot go back to his hometown. He said that he hopes the Myanmar government will give the Rohingya the same rights as others.

The organizers’ statement notes that the world is hosting over 70 million refugees, who are forced to leave their home countries by internal pressures, one of which is intolerance of dissent.

Thailand has had such refugees since long ago, such as  national artist Khamsing Srinawk, Pridi Phanomyong, an influential leader of the 1932 democratic revolution who fled to France, Puey Ungphakorn, former governor of the Bank of Thailand and the Rector of Thammasat University who was driven into exile in England by allegations of being a communist. 

After the 2014 coup d’état by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, more than 300 Thais sought refuge in neighbouring countries, Europe and the US. Between 2018 and 2020, 9 Thais fell victim to enforced disappearance. 3 were later found murdered. Recently on 4 June, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai activist in exile, was kidnapped in Phom Penh.

The statement demands that:

  1. the Thai government enforce and implement laws and policies to ensure full rights and protections for refugees in accordance with international human rights law and prevent refoulement and arbitrary arrest and detention;
  2. all junta orders and unjust laws that led to political refugees be repealed and refugees be brought back to Thailand;
  3. the facts about the abductions and murders of 9 refugees who were disappeared in Laos and Cambodia be investigated;
  4. the people’s anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill be enacted.

Somyos Pruksakasemsuk from the 24 June Democracy Movement said that these are demands of morality and are calls for an end to political killings and violence in order to create a peaceful society.

Photo of the event