how the [Halockhani] refugees would get enough drinking water, which has had to
be trucked in regularly, the Sangkhlaburi [Thailand] District Officer, Kamol
Rangsiyanun replied: 'They can drink rain water. "'
The Nation (Bangkok
August 1994, reporting on the
situation of Burmese refugees after Thai authorities cut off all food and aid
to their make-shift camp in Thailand
The Refugee situation in Thailand, India, China and Bangladesh – and spread throughout
the world through Burmese diaspora – is not a short-term problem. It will not
be simply solved “when the fighting stops”. As long as the overall
socio-political crisis is not solved inside Burma, refugees of all
nationalities will continue to stream across the borders in search of freedom
and stability. This is evidenced not only in the case of a quarter of a million
Rohingya along the Bangladeshi border, but also can be witnessed in the current
SLORC offensives against Karen-controlled areas along the Thai border.
Especially, the vast abuses by the Tatmadaw could be seen in the attack on
Halockhani refugee camp, which sent 6,000 refugees back across the Thai border.
What Halockhani also clearly showed, is how refugees are treated by
neighbouring countries. The plight of refugees, then, does not only rest with Burma, and no longer can this
said to be an “internal affair”. No matter when the refugees will be sent back,
Burmese citizens will be abused under the SLORC regime and continue to cross
the Burma’s borders in pursuit of peace and their inherent rights as human
The Thai government is not
a signatory on the UN protocols on Refugees and does not recognise Burmese
asylum seekers in Thailand. Due to the constraints
imposed upon it, The United Nations High Commission on Refugees can grant
financial assistance and protection to only a very small fraction of those
claiming political asylum. However, this too was recently suspended to help
force Burmese students and other political dissidents into the "Safe
Camp" where they are reportedly awaiting resettlement offers. What follows
below is a short summary of the sequence of events for Burmese asylum seekers
following their arrest in Thailand:
Asylum seekers are arrested
by police, immigration police, soldiers or other officers belonging to the Thai
security network at checkpoints, students' homes, work and public places under
the immigration act for being illegal immigrants. Asylum seekers are often
released at this point if they are able to pay a bribe (sometimes as low as 100
baht in Mae Sod and as high as several thousand baht in Bangkok). If unable to pay their
way out, asylum seekers are detained at the local police station or prison (if
arrested by police), or taken directly to the Immigration Detention Centre
who are arrested in Bangkok or Kanchanaburi, are often
transferred to the IDCs in these cities after several days of detention in
local police stations or prisons. After up to 10 days in detention, asylum
seekers are sent to the court that is nearest to the place of their arrest. Those
who carry no documents are simply tried on the charge of illegal immigration
and are fined 2,800 baht in lieu of 40 days detention at the IDC by some courts
or 4,900 baht in lieu of 70 days detention at the IDC by other courts. The
sentence depends on the court they attend (some courts automatically give 40
day sentences while others automatically give 70 day sentences) and whether or
not this was the first time they have been charged.
When over-loaded with
people, the Bangkok IDC holds over 1,000 people in 6 tiny rooms. At times there
is not enough space for all of the detainees to sleep so sleeping times are
roistered and people who are not sleeping may be required to stand. Detainees
must pay exorbitant fees for such privileges as using the phone or spending
brief periods away from the overcrowded conditions.
There have been reports of
women being lured or ordered out of their cells by prison guards in both Bangkok and Kanchanaburi and
raped. There have also been reports that the Bangkok IDC is a place from which
women are being trafficked for prostitution, both in Thailand and abroad.
Males are often beaten at
these detention centres. Any money and valuables owned by the detainees on
their arrival is usually taken from them by either prison officers or by room
leaders – other detainees who are placed in charge of cells so that
the prison officers don't have to directly involve themselves in the extortion
and beatings which take place.
Since the first week of
March, Thai police and immigration officers have hunted illegal Burmese in
Ranong, and 30-40 Burmese were arrested daily. At , nobody dared to go
shopping Ranong as immigration and police in civilian dress raid and arrest the
illegal Burmese. Most of the women who are on the way and selling groceries
were also arrested. Immigration and police arrested Burmese, jerked their hair,
beat them and put into detention. Some got injuries due to beatings.
Burmese asylum seekers are
deported to the border if they have no legal passport or to Rangoon if they do, (i.e. if they
were arrested for overstaying their visas or having false visas). They must pay
200 baht for travel from the Bangkok IDC to Kanchanaburi IDC, or to other
border deportation sites. Many students are forced to stay in detention for
periods beyond their sentences because they cannot pay their transport costs.
Deportees are sent to one of the following border towns depending on which is
closest to their home in Burma-Mae Sai (Chiang Rai province), Mae Sod (Tak
province), Sangkhlaburi (Kanchanaburi province) or Ranong.
If sent to Sangkhlaburi,
deportees are required to stay an extra one to two weeks in detention at the
Kanchanaburi IDC, except if they pay 6,000 baht on their arrival, in which case
they are immediately released and part of that money is used to provide
transport for their return to Bangkok.
For asylum seekers sent to
Kanchanaburi, the period spent at the local IDC is often more traumatic then
the time spent at the Bangkok IDC. Rape, beatings and extortion at the
Kanchanaburi IDC are reported to be more prevalent than at the Bangkok IDC.
Although it is the
responsibility of the central IDC office in Bangkok to notify the IDC office
at Kanchanaburi as to when and where to deport the detainees, it is the
Kanchanaburi IDC office that decides when it is the right time (i.e. when there
are enough people to fill the truck) to deport the asylum seekers to the
border. Thus, the period of detention at Kanchanaburi; like Bangkok, is uncertain but is
usually between one to two weeks.
Deportees can be deported
to the Thai-Burmese border in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are handed over
directly to the SLORC. This is the method used in deportations from Mae Sai to
Tachilek, Mae Sod to Myawaddy, Ranong to Kawthaung and at ThreePagodasPass (which straddles the
border). Deportees, especially students or people who are suspected of having
contact with opposition groups face rape, beatings, detention, and
extrajudicial execution in this situation.
Sometimes they have simply
been dumped at the border, which occurred on numerous occasion
during the past year at Bongti and Lawlo (both in the Sangkhlaburi area). There
is usually no supervision and people are often left on the road and told to
walk. In this situation, women are in extreme danger of being raped and/or
being tricked or coerced into prostitution by brothel agents who come to the
border for that purpose. Many of the women sent to Sangkhlaburi are from Shan
state and countries other than Burma and are thus particularly
In other instances, some of
the deportees, especially the Karen are conscripted by local officials at
Sangkhlaburi, when they arrive from Kanchanaburi IDC .
They are used as unpaid labour on local public works projects. Rape and other
forms of physical abuse have been repeatedly reported in such situations. More
rarely, they are handed over to refugee and relief officials from the
opposition groups (more often the case in the Sangkhlaburi area).
Those who want to return to
Bangkok from Kanchanaburi can do
so for a fee of 2,500 baht. Local and Bangkok businessmen have taken the
opportunity to make some money, and have been taking students and other asylum
seekers back to pre-arranged jobs in the capitol. These businessmen are
sometimes looking for people who will accept low paid and/or dangerous work or
prostitutes to feed the domestic and international sex trade.
While Thailand has several categories for refugees; they do not recognise any
refugees as refugees per se since 1984. This restriction has caused undue
hardship to thousands of people who have escaped the military regime. Whether
any of them are “economic refugees” does not play a major part; what does this
mean? A refugee who comes to Bangkok, is not allowed to be accepted as a
refugee and therefore receive UNHCR protection and funding, who must then work
in order to survive – is this an “economic refugee”?
Obviously, people who leave Burma
solely in order to earn money are economic refugees. However, those who leave Burma
because of the economic conditions of forced labour, economic mismanagement and
threats to their livelihood (such as forced relocation, extortion, their very
No screening process of refugees is made by Thai authorities. In
most cases, refugees who put up complaints receive longer “holding” sentences
in IDC under unbearable conditions. Therefore, refugees are more inclined to
state whatever is necessary to remove themselves from
this environment, so that they might begin the journey back into Thailand.
The idea that refugees are “costing” Thailand money has been proven false by
their own government, which has legalised work permits for Burmese along the
Thai provinces adjoining to Burma, not to mention the millions of dollars
annually contributed by international aid organisations to feed and supply
refugees, the amounts being spent locally for local Thai economic benefits.
This includes such locally made products as rice and mosquitos nets, etc. The idea that the Burmese only came “to Thailand to eat our rice” is not only erroneous, but the
contribution of Burmese has been appreciated by the Government of Thailand.
A LOOK WEST
Before 1988, no refugees
from the ChinState were reported. Following
the 1988 popular uprising in the urban centres of Burma, a small number of
refugees crossed into India. However, after 1993, the
number of refugees began to increase. At present, it is estimated that there
are 50,000 Chin refugees in India, mostly in MizoramState and some in ManipurState. Some Chin refugees are
found in the Mizo area of northeast Bangladesh.
situation in India is not as bad as in Thailand. Mizo people and Chins are
the same ethnic group and Chin refugees from Burma seem to integrate
reasonably well with the local population. Mizoram authorities are quite
sympathetic and do not restrict their movements neither within the state nor
across the India-Burma border. It seems that 2 camps have been established but
most of the refugees don’t settle in camps. Despite this, the Indian government
in an apparent appeasement move rounded up approximately 1,000 Chin refugees
and deposited them directly into the hands of SLORC, proving the danger for all
refugees anywhere. China and SLORC signed an
agreement in 1994 to begin repatriating the official refugees in 1995 – without
any form of international monitoring.
1994’s DARKEST HOUR:
On 21 July 1994 SLORC troops
from IB 62 shocked the worked by attacking a Mon refugee camp at Halockhani.
Worst of all for SLORC, it happened just as its representatives were going to
attend the annual Foreign Ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast
Asia Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok for the first time. This report attempts to
describe the attack through the eyes of some of its victims under “Eye-witness
Accounts”. What follows is a brief overview of what happened.
1989-90 Burmese troops attacked and overran ThreePagodasPass, the
main area held by the NMSP along the Thai border. According to MNRC figures,
over 12,000 civilians then fled to Thailand to
escape the Burmese military. Several Mon refugee camps were set up in Thailand's
in 1992, as part of its 'constructive engagement' deal with SLORC, the Thai
government began a program to intimidate the Mon refugees back into SLORC territory of Burma.
They ordered all Mon refugees to move to one site at Loh Loe west of
Sangkhlaburi. However, this camp was only allowed to exist for about another
year. Then at the beginning of 1994 the Thai authorities ordered the refugees
to move to a new site at Halockhani just across on the Burma side
of the border northwest of Sangkhlaburi. Although this site is within striking
distance of SLORC troops in ThreePagodasPass, the
Thais forced the MNRC to agree to it and the refugees moved.
to six thousand refugees established a camp with two parts: the main Halockhani
camp, on the Burma side just 20 minutes' walk from the last Thai Border Patrol
Police checkpoint over a hill that forms the border, and another small section
of 120 houses and 500 people called Plat Hon Pai (sometimes also written Blad
Don Pai, Baleh Donephai, Palai Tum Pai, or called Kwan Sayal, which is more
spacious 45 minutes walk further into Burma).
On 20 June 1994 at about , one or two
armed SLORC soldiers reportedly approached a rice field hut outside Plat Hon
Pai. In fear, the farmer fired a hunting rifle at them, and the next day the
body of one soldier was found in the uniform of SLORC IB 62 based at Three
month later on the morning of 21 July, an estimated more than 100 heavily-armed
troops from IB 62 arrived without warning in Plat Hon Pai, led by Deputy Bn
Comdr Lt Col Ohn Myint. They grabbed almost all the men in the camp and
gathered them at the school. Several men, including the section leader, were
beaten and tortured while the soldiers demanded the gun of the soldier who was
killed a month earlier.
the same time, a contingent of troops took about 50 refugees as a human shield
and set off for the main part of Halockhani camp. When they were almost there,
they were fired on by Mon soldiers who had rushed to the scene on hearing of
the Burmese troops' presence. A short battle followed, during which one SLORC soldier
was wounded and many of the refugees managed to escape. The troops then
retreated to Plat Hon Pai.
took 6 men as prisoners or hostages, carrying loads and in handcuffs, and took
at least 10 other refugees as porters to add to the 100 or more porters from Burma they
had initially brought with them. Before they left Plat Hon Pai, soldiers
ordered all the women and children out of their houses, went inside to loot the
valuables, then burned the houses. Most of the houses
in the camp were either totally or partly burned down, and the soldiers
deliberately prevented the women from saving any of their belongings.
they left the village, they said they would come back in 3 days and shoot
anyone they saw. The troops then set off with the porters and prisoners for
several days' march across the mountains to Ye near the AndamanCoast.
Along the way several of the refugee porters escaped and others, such as the
Plat Hon Pai section leader, were let go in Ye. (IB 61 had left Ye in early July to replace IB 62 at Three Pagodas Pass.
When they arrived there, IB 62 took their porters and set off to go back to Ye,
attacking Halockhani on the way.)
the attack all the refugees in Plat Hon Pai and the main part of Halockhani
fled across the Thai border and camped around the Thai Border Patrol Police
checkpoint, a total of some 6,000 people. There they suffered from the constant
rains in little overcrowded bamboo shelters covered with plastic sheets
supplied by foreign NGOs. The Thais immediately said the fighting was over and
that the refugees must go back, but the refugees heard more fighting in the
distance and refused because they were afraid of more attacks.
July the MNRC met with 5 Thai officials including the District Chairman of
Sangkhlaburi District and were told that all refugees must return across the
border immediately, that Col Tin Kyaing, the commander of SLORC IB 61 based at
3 Pagodas Pass, had promised the Thai authorities not to made any more trouble
for the Mon refugees if they returned; and that the Thai government will not
allow any Mon refugees to stay on Thai soil. The refugees still refused to go
back, but the Thais set a deadline of 10 August for them all to be gone.
that deadline passed the camp gate was closed and no further supplies were
allowed in, including doctors from Medicins Sans Frontieres, MNRC
representatives, journalists, or visitors of any kind. Representatives of
UNHCR, Thai and US delegations of politicians had also been denied entry. A
35-year-old Mon mother with five reportedly died of cerebral malaria because
the Thai BPP stopped her en route to the RiverKwaiHospital.
Malnutrition of children raised especially high,
despite refugees’ attempts to keep latrines far away and boil water.
the refugees had a stockpile of rice to last most of the rainy season because
the camp is almost inaccessible during the rains; however, Thai authorities
then began dumping several hundred deportees at the camp every week who must also be fed and treated from the camp supply. These
are IDC inmates; illegal immigrants, economic migrants, Burmese student
dissidents, refugees and other people from Burma, and
occasionally even Nepalese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysians and others. They
have been arrested in Thailand,
imprisoned, often robbed or raped, and are being “deported' to the refugee camp
at Halockhani”. It was only then the Thais seized the rice storehouse, claiming
it was on Thai soil.
this rate, the refugees' situation became more desperate every day, without
outside aid. Some people argued that the refugees' health situation would be
much better if they went back; on the other hand, medical workers who had been
in the camp stated that the site on the Thai side would actually be much
healthier, if only the Thais would allow the people to set up proper houses,
latrines and a good water supply. The health crisis at the camp occurred mainly
because this is not being allowed.
are various theories on why the SLORC attacked Halockhani; as revenge for the
soldier killed in June, to remind the refugees ‘who is master' on the Burma
side of the border, to pressure the NMSP into surrendering to a SLORC
“ceasefire” or any combination of these. The end result was that all the
refugees returned to their burnt villages, while many of the “deportees” have
already found their way back inside of Thailand as a
better life confronts them. Truly, Halockhani could be defined by the phrase,
“A human rights nightmare turned into a major humanitarian disaster.”
[see also under “Forced Repatriation” and “Eye-witness
Accounts”, interview 1-2, 4-6, 8-12, 24, 28-29, 32-33, 35-36, 102]