The recent deportation of three internationally recognised Cambodian refugees provoked an international outcry, much to Thailand’s embarrassment. The first two were deported from Thailand on Nov 9, while the third was sent back home on Nov 20 to also face the risk of political persecution. Such efforts to “push back” refugees have regrettably tarnished Thailand’s generally commendable policy and practice of offering refuge to persons fleeing persecution and other dangers from foreign territories. This is all the more poignant since Thailand’s human rights record is in the middle of being assessed in Geneva under the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
It should not be forgotten that Thailand has a long history of offering refuge and protection to Cambodians. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, tens of thousands of Cambodians were sheltered in such camps as Sa Kaeo and Kao I Dang in the Aranyaprathet area. Several hundred thousand Cambodians who were fleeing warfare were also assisted in various border sites near Thai territory. When the peace process arrived in Cambodia in 1991, the majority returned peacefully to their homes.