Bring Thais back Home: Constitutional Rights Vs. Emergency Decree
By Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Nur-Sikeen Yosoh, Cross Cultural Foundation- CrCF
Translation by Nathakrit and Katie
Released in Thai at https://www.the101.world/bring-thais-home/
On 18 March 2020, Malaysia decided to go into lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The country then delayed its border checkpoint re-opening. The checkpoints are in districts which share the border with Malaysia, such as Su-ngai Kolok district of Narathiwat province, Betong district of Yala province and Khuan Don district of Satun province. Since then, we have learned about the situation of Thai people stranded in Malaysia through online chatting and calling, and we discussed further ways to bring this information to other organisations and including state agencies . We do so with the hope that collaboration will decrease the difficulties Thais face in trying to return back to their homes. According to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, Section 39 This section states that
“ No person of Thai nationality shall be deported or prohibited from entering the Kingdom. The revocation of Thai nationality acquired by birth shall not be permitted. ”
Many might not agree that those who have Thai citizenship should have the right to enter Thailand regardless of extenuating circumstances. But if Thais who are diagnosed with Covid-19 want to return to their country, they have the right to do so. Hence, the related state sectors must help them to get proper medical treatment until they are cured, or the state has to ensure that these Thais will enter quarantine until it is determined they are noncontagious. However, there are no cases of infected people being denied to return home at this point in time.
The hot topic is the scenario where Thai citizens request to return to Thailand from highly infected countries. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak that has caused many states to lose control over the spread of infection, every country wants to ensure they have adequate public health protective measures. However, Thai people travelling back to their homes should not have their fundamental rights violated. As the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand states: “No person of Thai nationality shall be […] prohibited from entering the Kingdom.”
The situation in Su-ngai Kolok, the Southern province of Narathiwat, is that constitutional rights conflict with the emergency decree. In order to enter Thailand, it is necessary to seek help from many sectors – such as diplomats, politicians, lawyers, public health officials, civil society members, and other sectors including the military and police. We all must work together to help Thais stuck in Malaysia safely return home.
Although everyone does their best to help the Thais, for many villagers in Su-ngai Kolok the situation remains dire.
Covid-19 in Thailand’s the Deep South
Three Southern Border Provinces are areas of conflict in which force has been used since 2006. This marks the 16th year of armed conflict. People, regardless of age, race, and profession, are affected by the fighting, which killed more than 7,000 people and injured more than 10,000 people. It could be said that almost everyone has acquaintances or close relatives directly affected by the violence. Nevertheless, this number does not include the violence caused by power structures, which forced people to leave their home districts to seek better economic opportunities, to escape from the chaos, or even to avoid arrest.
The outbreak of covid-19 in the Deep South, therefore, poses a challenge to an already complex situation. Covid-19 policies, which have been in effect for more than 2 months now, are causing people immense confusion and concern.
The epidemic in the Deep South began with the return of a religious group from a high-risk country. However, according to the report on 3 May 2020, there are now 374 cases of infection (cumulative), 255 cases of recovered patients, and 4 deaths. The infected cases include both children and seniors. Currently, patients are undergoing medical treatment at the hospitals in their districts.
The epidemic of covid-19 caused the state sector to implement temporary measures in all three southern border provinces where the special laws had previously been in effect. This led to an overlap in emergency law implementations, greatly affecting the lives of people in the South. The difficulties caused by the new emergency laws include villages locking down, provinces locking down, some road closures, and limits to the amount of Thai workers who can return to Thailand. Only 100 Thai workers, who are currently in Malaysia, can pass through individual checkpoints.
The sudden measures implemented due to the rapidly expanding outbreak affects many aspects of peoples’ daily lives, including jobs loss or terminated due to the spread of covid-19. At present, government and non-government agencies have started to provide assistance for those affected by the spread of the communicable disease.
No work, no money
When Thai workers in Malaysia have to come back home
The situation for Thai workers in Malaysia is becoming more and more complicated. These workers work in Thai restaurants, especially cook-to-order restaurants– locally called Tom Yum Goong restaurants– in which most owners are Thai citizens of Malay descent. Apart from this, there are also Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim workers from provinces of Southern Thailand, and Thai-Buddhist workers from the other regions of Thailand, who are currently working in the agriculture sector. They work on fishing boats, in the seafood industry, on rubber plantations, on palm plantations, and in cornfields. Moreover, there are still a large number of workers working in the service sector as massage therapists, housewives, or servants.
For Thai laborers from Southern Thailand’s three border provinces, most of them work as employees who are paid daily. The strict epidemic prevention measures in Malaysia have caused these workers to lose their jobs. Thus, they cannot earn the money to support their families and they desire to return to their homes in Thailand. A desire to return also stems from the fasting month from 25 April to 25 May in which the Hari Raya festival takes place. This festival, like the Songkran festival of other Thais, is another motivator to return home for Thai-Muslim people who live in the three border provinces of Southern Thailand.
Travel requirement deprives people
Aligning with the command of the southern province of Satun, on 28 March 2020, the Royal Thai Embassy of Kuala Lumpur announced the closure of Tammalang pier and Wang Prachan checkpoints. It insisted that Thais in Malaysia stay in their accommodations and not travel to the border.
On 13 April 2020, the Royal Thai Embassy then announced the opening of checkpoints in Thailand-Malaysia borders areas. The Embassy claimed it would allow Thais to return to their country. Unfortunately, this is just for Thais who can acquire and complete all the required documents. These documents consist of a certificate of entry issued by the Royal Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur or the Consulate General, which must be registered for online. And, Thais must also obtain a medical certificate post physical examination that proves they are healthy within 72 hours prior to travel. Thais are allowed to enter Thailand through limited channels. Just 4 checkpoints are open: Sadao, Su-ngai Kolok, Wang Prachan and Betong. Moreover, only a total of 300 people, cumulative across all the checkpoints, are allowed to enter Thailand each day.
Thais in Malaysia find it terribly difficult to obtain the medical documents and the online entry certificates issued by the Thai Embassy. Many of them registered for humanitarian aid to obtain food and necessities. Some of them received assistance from the private sector of Malaysia. Some of them even received help directly from the Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The Thai Embassy has good communication with the Thais in Malaysia. They even implemented measures to help Thais return home as soon as possible. For instance, the Embassy organized buses to drop off Thais at the Thailand-Malaysia border checkpoints. Coming home is the thing everyone longs for.
Yet the ways back home are limited by the extremely restrictive limit placed on immigration. With only 300 Thais per day allowed to enter the country through the land checkpoints, there are thousands who remain unable to register for an entry certificate date. Moreover, the online registration system is difficult to understand and does not always function properly. Thus, Thais need helps from a team of volunteers to access the internet and complete the online form.
A volunteer explained that “The server will open at midnight every day but they cannot register every night, because there are a lot of people who register and they have to wait for the six digit code to complete the registration. The server sometimes does not issue a code, causing us to restart again.”
In addition, the lock down also makes it impossible to use public transportation. Many have to rent a car to return home. Sometimes, people have to spend ten times more for the trip back home.
Opening a checkpint: middleman , fines and DNA
26-year-old Mr.A (alias) from Cho Ai Rong of Narathiwat province works as an employee in a Tom-Yum Goong restaurant in Banting of Salang Ngo state. He informed us that one of his employers, Baeyu, told him that the Thai Embassy would return the Thais home. Thus, Bayu offered him a trip to the Kolok checkpoint; But Mr.A would have to pay 500 RM for the trip back home. His employer set up an appointment on 18 April 2020 after paying the cost. However, both employers also demanded that he pay more than 100 RM (700 RM) for unexplained reasons.
Similarly, 29 year old Mr.B (alias), who is from Cho Ai Rong of Narathiwat and works as an employer in a city in Salang Ngo state, says that he heard the news from his friends. They said that there would be someone who can bring them back home in exchange for some money. When Mr.B heard that, he quickly contacted Baeyu, the same middleman. He paid Baeyu 400 RM (around 2,800 baht) for the trip. Many trips back home had different costs. For instance, Mr.B heard that one mother along with a daughter had to pay approximately 2,000 RM (14,000 baht) without knowing why they had to pay such a high price. They took the same bus, spending more than 20 hours on it. However, the bus also picked up more than 72 people during the trip.
The number of Thai returnees were limited at the Sungai Kolok Immigration Checkpoint. There was a quota to only accept 100 people returning from Malaysia per day. However, on April 19, more than 200 people traveled. This made the checkpoint accept all of them. But workers who did not have medical certificates, the documents issued by the Embassy, who stayed in Malaysia longer than their visa validity, or who had expired passports had to pay a fine of 800 baht. Some of them had to borrow baht from their friends to pay the fines, and many were subjected to DNA tests by the police. Everyone who crossed the border that day did not know about the DNA tests in advance and did not even know why they had to comply. The police commanded the migrant workers to quickly sign the consent documents without allowing them to read them. They all believed that the DNA tests were a part of the re-entry process, since the tables were set beside the fines payment point. After that, all of them were put into quarantine in their domiciles.
The regulation which is inconsistent with the situation
In order to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, Dr. Giflon Dolor, the president of the Thai Islamic Medical Association, formed an ad hoc commission to help Thais in Malaysia. This commission consists of 11 committees from civil society and other various fields.
According to Tuwerdaniya Mueringing, the president of the ad hoc commission, in the first conference (30 March 2020), it was previously predicted that there were more than 50,000 people who already returned to Thailand. These people mostly have residences in the border provinces of Southern Thailand. However, there are still up to 10,000 people stranded in Malaysia — 6,000 people are registered with the Thai Embassy but the rest are still unaccounted for.
For a total of one month, the commission had proposed in various ways that the Thai Embassy policies – that only 300 returnees can pass the checkpoints and that everyone must have fit to travel medical certificates – be cancelled. Apart from this, they also demanded that authorities not facilitate required documents through online registration. Nonetheless, the Thai authorities did not respond to the commission.
It is well known that, in order to bring Thais back home, it is necessary to have effective public health management by the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Interior. These agencies determine medical treatment and quarantine policies for the state, local departments, and communities. But once Thai public health maintenance and pandemic control measures are effective, maintaining inconsistent migration policies can only be considered the abandonment of Thai migrant workers stranded abroad. These neglected Thais — children, women, the elderly and the poverty-stricken – then consider alternative ways, including illegal border crossings, to enter the country. Thus, they risk being caught by security forces while simultaneously posing a risk to society by not passing health screenings. The fit to travel policies, therefore, must be cancelled immediately in accordance with human rights principles under the Thai constitution.
Translation by Nathakrit and Katie