CityNews – Thailand detains thousands of migrant children every year in squalid immigration centres and police lock-ups, harming their mental and physical health, according to a report released today.
The author of the report, Alice Farmer, told CityNews that some 4,000 children are held in the immigration system each year, including at least a thousand in the north of Thailand. Most of these are from neighbouring Burma, including large numbers of ethnic Shan.
“Migrant children detained in Thailand are suffering needlessly in filthy, overcrowded cells without adequate nutrition, education or exercise space,” she said in a statement. “Detention lock-up is no place for migrant children.”
According to the report, children in immigration detention in Thailand are routinely held with unrelated adults, in violation of international law. They are regularly exposed to violence and sometimes get physically hurt.
Severe overcrowding is a chronic problem in many immigration detention centers (IDCs), where children are crammed into packed cells with poor ventilation and limited or no access to space for recreation. Several children described being confined in cells so crowded they had to sleep sitting up.
Even where children have room to lie down, they routinely reported sleeping on tiled or wooden floors, without mattresses or blankets, surrounded by strange adults.
None of those interviewed for the report received formal education while in detention, even those held for many months, breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
One of the interviewees said she was held in the Chiang Mai IDC for three months in 2010 with a friend and her friend’s two children, aged six and eight at the time.
“It was very, very dirty. The floor was made from wood,” she told HRW. “There was no air coming in at all. The wood was broken and water came in. There were lots of insects, and cockroaches, and rats – the rats were as wide around as this [indicating the circumference of her upper arm]. It was very dirty, smelly, stinky, with … no air. We didn’t have mattresses, we didn’t have anything … We didn’t have water, no shower. When I was sleeping, a big rat bit my face, I had a sore. And we had sores, I had sores all over my body from not washing. The children slept with us. They got sick.”
Another migrant was held in the Chiang Rai IDC with her two children for two weeks in 2010 before they were all transferred to another facility. “We couldn’t sleep because water came in from the hole in the roof, the floor was wet,” she said.
The migrants interviewed for the report told of the hardships they faced in detention. A woman from Burma said officials at the Mae Sot IDC provided no food for seven days.
A 17-year-old youth who was held in a police lock-up in Chiang Mai for 25 days told how, in a room with around 70 migrants, there was only one small bowl for washing and no cleaning products or mattresses.
Htee Yaw, a Burmese man living in Chiang Mai, described visiting his 17-year-old brother in the police lock-up after he was arrested in 2012.
“About 50 men were there, some men, some my brother’s age,” he said. “From the visiting room I could see inside. It was smelly, crowded, without good facilities and without enough blankets.”
Researchers interviewed 41 migrant children and 64 adults for the report, titled ‘Two Years with No Moon’: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, there are approximately 375,000 migrant children in Thailand, including children of migrant workers from neighboring countries and children who are refugees and seeking asylum. The largest group are from Burma, while others are refugees are from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.
Migrants from neighboring Burma, Cambodia and Laos tend to spend a few days or weeks in detention after they are arrested and are then released or formally deported, HRW said. But refugee families from non-neighbouring countries “face the choice of remaining locked up indefinitely with their children, waiting for months or years for the slim chance of resettlement in a third country, or paying for their return to their own country, where they fear persecution. They are left to languish indefinitely in what effectively amounts to debtors’ prison.”
Farmer said Thailand’s immigration detention policies fall far short of international standards and make a mockery of government claims to protect children. She called on the authorities to immediately stop detaining children and provide adequate shelters for families.
“There are easy answers to this problem,” she told CityNews. “Thailand has the capacity to make these changes. It has the capacity to treat refugee and migrant children better. They are just not doing it.”