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Thailand arrests leader of Lao democracy group, deportation likely

A THAI researcher for Human Rights Watch tweeted today (Jan. 31) that Mr. Khukham Kaewmaniwong, the leader of the Free Lao pro-democracy group and who has UNHCR refugee status was arrested in Bangkok on Saturday Jan. 29 with the Thai authorities preparing to deport him back to Laos, Matichon newspaper said.

Mr. Sunai Phasuk, the senior Thai researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Kukham faces punishment should he return to Laos.

He added that in 2019 another member of the Free Lao group disappeared from Bangkok.

Sunai also mentioned that the Thai government has deported refugees many times. The latest was the deportation of a Cambodian refugee late November with this leading to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issuing a statement expressing disappointment for again doing so.

This Cambodian refugee was deported just 10 days after two other Cambodian refugees were sent back to Cambodia.

Text of the statement issued by UNHCR on Nov. 22 last year follows below:

On November 19, the Cambodian refugee was arrested. UNHCR immediately notified the authorities of the individual’s refugee status and urged the government not to return the individual to Cambodia over serious concerns for the safety of the refugee. The refugee was held in a detention centre in Aranyaprathet overnight and deported to Cambodia the following day, on November 20.

“We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution. Given recent developments, we are very concerned about the safety of UNHCR recognised Cambodian refugees in Thailand,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

“We urge the Royal Thai Government to refrain from deporting recognized refugees and to abide by its international obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement. UNHCR continues to offer its full support to the government in ensuring the protection of those in need in Thailand,” she added.

UNHCR is seeking urgent clarification from the Thai authorities regarding the circumstances leading to this most recent deportation and the fate of those returned in Cambodia. UNHCR exhorts Cambodian authorities to uphold international human rights standards and to allow human rights organisations access to the deportees.


Free Lao group leader Khukham Kaewmaniwong has been arrested and is expected to be sent back to Laos. Photo: Matichon


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