Myanmar beauty queen stuck in airport limbo
Supporters appeal to Thai authorities not to send junta critic Han Lay back to Myanmar
published : 23 Sep 2022 at 14:58
updated: 23 Sep 2022 at 16:23
writer: Reuters and AFP
A beauty queen who spoke out against Myanmar’s military rulers remained stranded at Suvarnabhumi airport for a third day on Friday, hoping to be granted entry, as activists and her employer urged authorities not to send her back to her homeland.
Han Lay captured international attention last year with a moving speech at the Miss Grand International pageant in Bangkok, where she called for urgent help for Myanmar’s people. She has been denied entry by the Immigration Bureau, despite having taken refuge in Thailand for the past year.
The 23-year-old model, whose real name is Thaw Nandar Aung, was stopped at the airport on Wednesday after returning from a brief visit to Vietnam. Immigration officials said she was using invalid travel documents. Local reports on Thursday speculated that the Myanmar government might have cancelled her passport.
In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, the former psychology student said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport.
“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me,” she wrote in English, adding that she had contacted the UN refugee agency.
A Thai official told AFP that Myanmar police had not spoken to her and said it was up to her to decide where to fly to from Bangkok.
The event management team that works with Han Lay said they hoped she could re-enter Thailand.
“The only thing we want is her not to return to Myanmar because if she returns, we don’t not know what will happen to her,” said a representative, who declined to be identified because she was not authorised to speak to media.
Asked about Han Lay’s case on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said authorities “did not make an arrest and have no plans to send her anywhere at this stage”.
Thailand has often been caught up in tugs of war between countries seeking the return of citizens and activists who say those individuals would be persecuted if sent home.
These included an Australia-based football player arrested in Thailand in 2018 at the request of Bahrain for criticising its monarchy, and an 18-year-old Saudi woman who was stranded at the Bangkok airport after fleeing her family.
A Myanmar junta spokesman could not be reached for comment on Han Lay’s case.
She and her manager have said she was the subject of an Interpol red notice, the highest alert level for an individual. Thai police and the Immigration Bureau have declined to comment and Reuters could not independently confirm such a notice.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said its policy was to not confirm individual cases.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said on Twitter that Thai authorities should grant Han Lay protection and “under no circumstances” return her to Myanmar.
While in Bangkok competing in Miss Grand International in March last year, Han Lay spoke out against the coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I want to say from here to the world: please support the Myanmar people,” she told a local news outlet. “So many people die in Myanmar by the guns of the military. … Please save us.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the junta struggling to quell resistance to its rule.
A military crackdown on dissent has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group. The junta puts the civilian death toll at almost 3,900.