BANGKOK – Thailand pledged on Monday to free children detained in immigration centers amid calls by human rights organizations for them to be reunited with their families.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan presided over the signing of an agreement between several Thai agencies, including the police and ministries of Interior, Education, Health and Labour, in Bangkok, which says that Thailand will detain children only as a last resort and for the briefest possible time and only if they fail to place them with family members or in foster homes.
It also established a bail of 50,000 baht ($1,570) to ensure provisional release of mothers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) applauded the agreement and said that it expected children and their mothers in immigrant centers to be released soon.
Meanwhile, seven nonprofits – including Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights – in a joint statement called for expanding the conditions for provisional release of parents and lower the exorbitant bail fee.
Human rights groups also urged the recognition of the rights of the UN Refugee Convention of 1951, a treaty to which Thailand is not a signatory.
Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said that in order to prevent the detention of children and separation of families, Thai authorities must recognize the legal status and basic rights of refugees living in Thailand.
The nonprofits alleged that since October, thousands of refugees, including children, have been detained during a nationwide anti-immigration campaign.
Hakeem Al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee and footballer living in Australia since 2014 as a refugee, was arrested in November at Suvarnabhumi International Airport as he arrived in Thailand.
He faces extradition to Bahrain where he is accused of causing damage to a police station.
Shortly after this, a young Saudi woman, Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, had barricaded herself in an airport hotel room to prevent being deported to Kuwait.
The young woman, allegedly fleeing her family who had threatened to kill her, finally managed to travel to Canada, with the help of UNHCR, to seek asylum.