BANGKOK, 12 March 2020: The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) remains deeply concerned about the case of Truong Duy Nhat, a Radio Free Asia (RFA) blogger who sought asylum through the UNHCR office in Thailand. According to RFA, Nhat was arrested by Thai authorities on 26 January 2019, one day after submitting his asylum application to UNHCR. He was reportedly then passed to Vietnamese authorities who escorted him to Hanoi where he was detained. On 9 March 2020, Nhat was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of fraud while acting as Bureau Chief of a Danang-based newspaper over a decade ago. Nhat’s supporters suggest these charges were politically motivated, and he has previously been jailed for reporting critical of the Vietnam government.

Regardless of the validity of the charges, APRRN takes the opportunity of Nhat’s sentencing to express concern that an individual seeking international protection may have been forcibly returned to his country before an assessment of protection needs was able to take place.

APRRN Secretary General, Themba Lewis, stated, “The right to seek asylum is fundamental to respecting human rights, and protection from return during the process is grounded in the principle of nonrefoulement — a legally binding component of customary international law. The apparent return of an asylum seeker to Vietnam by the Thai authorities, and his subsequent imprisonment on potentially politically motivated charges, should raise concern not only from refugee rights and freedom of speech advocates, but also from the general public at large.”

Although Thailand has not formally obliged itself to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, it has demonstrated a long history of tolerance for refugees in the country, and is currently hosting over 93,000 refugees across nine camps along its border with Myanmar, some of these having been in Thailand for 30 years. Following commitments made by Prime Minister Chan-o-cha before the New York Summit in 2016, the government has promised to implement a screening mechanism to determine who amongst the migrant population in Thailand may be in need of protection status. Such a process – due to come into force in June of this year – could formalise a traditionally ad hoc response to refugees in the country.

Despite recent high-profile refugee cases in Thailand, such as that of Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi and Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun, Thailand has a spotted history when it comes to protection, formally advancing a number returns to countries of origin, and informally facilitating unofficial returns through border pushbacks and transportation of potential asylum seekers back to border crossings.

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) is a network of 400 civil society organisations and individuals from 28 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific region. APRRN aims to advance the rights of refugees and other people in need of protection through joint advocacy, capacity strengthening, resource sharing and outreach.

Media Contact:
Janeen Sawatzky, Programme Coordinator, APRRN
Tel: +66 (0) 98 252 5102 Email: Fax: +66 2 234 2679

Themba Lewis, Secretary General, APRRN
Tel: +66 (0) 99 481 1595 Email: Fax: +66 2 234 2679

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