Migrant crackdown steps up

Migrant crackdown steps up

Many asylum-seekers exploit status to evade punishment

The Immigration Bureau is focusing on three core groups of migrants living and working illegally in Thailand, including more than 9,000 refugees who abuse their protected status to get themselves off the hook when caught breaking the law, according to police.

The suppression of illegal migrants, targeting those from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East in particular, began in October.

The operation is led by the bureau which has drafted a plan for other police divisions to join forces in tackling illegal migrants.

As a result, about 10,000 illegal migrants or so are detained every month, said bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Natthorn Phrosunthorn, adding the operation does not cover Myanmar, Lao and Cambodian migrants because they are the main labour force in Thailand.

"The Immigration Bureau is actually focusing on nationals seen as possible threats, including terrorists," said the bureau chief.

The bureau is working closely with its counterparts in other countries in Asia, especially Singapore which is in talks with Thailand over a joint effort to stamp out transnational criminal activities of some South Asian groups that are suspected to be involved with terrorist movements, he said.

These three groups have high migration rates because they have large populations, he said.

Migrants from South Asia in particular apparently want to enter Thailand and use it as their base to migrate on to a third country, he said.

Migrants from Pakistan, for example, usually intend to migrate to either Australia or Canada through Thailand with the help of human traffickers, Pol Lt Gen Natthorn said.

These migrants are divided into two groups according to the tactics they used to gain entry to Thailand to later move to their intended final destinations.

In the first group, the migrants enter Thailand legally with a proper visa. But they intend to overstay from the beginning because they aim to work for several years to save enough money to fund their migration to another country.

The other group, meanwhile, usually enters Thailand illegally through natural borders, such as through uninhabited land or across the sea.

Aside from these two groups, said Pol Lt Gen Natthorn, there are those migrants who aim to obtain refugee status determined by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) immediately upon arriving in Thailand.

These migrants, totalling more than 9,000, hold UNHCR Asylum Seeker Certificates or UNHCR Refugee Certificates, he said, adding they are mostly from Pakistan, Somalia and Palestine.

Some of these refugees were found to be breaking Thai laws by working without permits or forming organised crime gangs targeting their compatriots, he said.

But when these people are arrested, they often attempt to free themselves by showing their UNHCR refugee documents to the police, who end up letting them go without taking any action against them, he said.

Some police officers are afraid of falling foul of the UN if they hold the refugees to account.

"When local police find them, they don't dare arrest them because the law-breaking refugees like to hand them their refugee status documents to get themselves out of trouble. But for the bureau, we have to arrest them because they break the law," he said.

"Anyway, we cannot deport them or do anything else because they are in the process of seeking asylum, which is handled by the UN. And there is no time frame specified by the UN for when these refugees will travel to a third country or where they are going."

As a result, the refugees have been moving from province to province across the country, he said.

This has prompted the Immigration Bureau to step up measures to pressure these refugees to leave, otherwise they can live their lives as if they have obtained Thai citizenship, he said.

The bureau is duty-bound to clear up this problem as part of preparations for the new law against overstaying in which law-breaking migrants will be blacklisted.

Furthermore, all migrants will be required to have their fingerprints, photos and other personal information collected to be added to a so-called bio-metric system, Pol Lt Gen Natthorn said.

That is part of the plan to clamp down on human trafficking activities that a number of Thais were found to have been involved with, he added.

Contact Crime Track: crimetrack@bangkokpost.co.th

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