PUBLISHED : 16 MAY 2021 AT 04:00
The situation on the Myanmar side of the border is a test for Thailand’s humanitarian efforts. During the past two months, security forces have had to deal with an influx of about 3,000 ethnic villagers crossing into Thai soil to flee from a crackdown by Myanmar’s military, known as Tatmadaw. Despite negative reports accusing the military of pushing them back, the government has provided them with shelter.
Yet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha now has a tough nut to crack after three Myanmar journalists and two of their associates were arrested in Chiang Mai last Sunday after fleeing into Thailand.
Under normal circumstances, they would be deported back to Myanmar. However, the situation in Myanmar is anything but normal. Now, the fate of these three reporters — who work for Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a media company known for its anti-Myanmar military stance — is destined for the worst.
The international community is waiting with bated breath to see how the government will react to the arrests. Is the government — which originated from a coup — going to follow immigration protocols by deporting the five or will it keep them on Thai soil on humanitarian grounds?
For now, international organisations and rights groups are working hard to convince Thailand to help those who fled the crackdown in Myanmar.
On Friday, Christine Schraner Burgener, United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar, met Gen Prayut to discuss humanitarian assistance for those affected by the crackdown, including those who fled to Thailand for safety.
The government has an opportunity to prove its mettle. Keeping those who fled Myanmar might upset Thailand’s military ties with the Tatmadaw, but sending them back will not only open the kingdom to condemnation but also accusations of being complicit in the deterioration of human rights.
The Tatmadaw is ultimately responsible for Myanmar’s backslide into authoritarianism, and the public is right to feel anxious.
Thailand has a track record in dealing with similarly delicate situations. Past examples have shown that when borders are concerned, authorities tend to act with impunity — often disregarding the plight and circumstances of asylum-seekers and displaced people in favour of abiding by its rigid rulebook.
Remember in 2015, when the government basically handed over 109 Uighur asylum seekers to Beijing? The deportation was done in the name of “protocol”.
The coldness and rigid shortsightedness of authorities in the dealing of individuals with “grey” immigration status can only be explained by examining its own dubious status and standing in the international community.
Over the past decade or so, Thailand has been rocked by its own political turmoil, which has never been completely resolved without political crackdowns and coups.
But this isn’t a glass house that one should be afraid to shatter, as pleasing Myanmar’s coup chief will not get Thailand anywhere. Like it or not, Myanmar’s coupmakers are not destined for success in the long run.
Despite their continued crackdown on anti-coup protesters, Myanmar citizens have shown an extraordinary level of commitment to their cause and managed to keep up their protests, which are gradually winning the support of the international community. Meanwhile, foreign investment is drying up, ruining the opportunity for Myanmar to become a rising open market economy.
Myanmar also looks set to plunge into a civil war. Yet Thailand — with its most ambiguous stance to date, despite being close to the epicentre of the conflict — remains undecided on the matter.
The way Thailand deals with this situation will show whether the government can still logically and morally function.
Standing firm on humanitarian grounds and not deporting the five will tell the world that despite its own pock-marked past, Gen Prayut’s regime is keen on meeting its commitments to basic rights, democracy and freedom of speech.
Journalists working in conflict zones face threats at multiple levels.
Before they are journalists, they are citizens of a country bound by its constitution, rules and courts of law — regardless of how discriminatory, unfair, or even illegal, the processes within them might be.
In performing their duties, they face further threats, not just due to their position to influence narratives, but also because they are often the only ones with access to conflict areas.
The government has to do the right thing, as this may be the last chance it has to prove that despite the numerous missteps it has made, it is still capable of honouring basic rights and freedoms.
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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