On Feb 1, 2021, the world was shocked as the Myanmar military staged a coup, pushing the country formerly seen as a new poster-boy of democracy back to an Orwellian state.
What has transpired in the ensuing two years has been ghastly. Civilian elected leaders -- among them Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi -- have been imprisoned, and political opponents executed.
The State Administration Council (SAC), the military junta that has governed Myanmar since the coup, has carried a systematic crackdown against opponents and ethnic groups along the border.
Mass resistance against the Tatmadaw has spilled over into civil wars. Political opponents and activists have transformed into armed groups such as the People's Defence Armed Forces' (PDF) under the wing of the National Unity Government (NUG). Supported with arms and funded by Western countries, the PDF has fought back while the NUG has tried to assert itself as civilian-elected government-in-exile.
Worryingly, the situation is unlikely to improve this year. Even though the SAC is prepared to launch a general election, this is seen as a one-horse race, and will not be accepted by resistance groups such as the PDF or NUG, let alone the ethnic groups along the border. As such, the situation will be decided by arms and fighting, not peaceful dialogue. Meanwhile, peace talk efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are going nowhere as the Tatmadaw casually dismissed the idea of complying with Asean's Five-Point Consensus (5PC).
Regardless, Thailand, given the porous 2,416-kilometre shared border, stands to suffer.
Over the past two years, droves of Myanmar civilians have illegally entered the country, sparking problems related to human trafficking. The government lacks any policies to screen those refugees or provide them with the appropriate assistance.
Political activists who seek asylum in a third country also risk being caught and sent back, while ethnic people have become victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation.
The armed forces stance towards Myanmar refugees is also a concern.
On Jan 20, Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, chief of the Thai defence forces, and Myanmar military leader Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing, signed a series of pacts. One of these concerns the Thai army's commitment to sending refugees fleeing fighting in Myanmar back home.
This collaboration is questionable. Who exactly does the army intend to send back and what will the process be? Without clear guidelines, the army -- known for having a close relationship with Myanmar -- could be used by the SAC to repatriate Myanmar civilians and political refugees to Nay Pyi Taw.
The government clearly needs to pursue quiet diplomacy and collaborate with Myanmar's junta leaders. After all, both countries require help battling the narcotics trade and human trafficking along the border. But this bilateral diplomacy must be based on a humanitarian mandate rather than close military ties.
It is time for the government, especially Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, to clarify that the Kingdom will not send political refugees or activists back to Myanmar's junta government.
Under the current situation, sending refugees back against their will is immoral and against the collective will of the Thai people, who view the people of Myanmar as friends and wish to see them in safe hands.