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BP: HUMAN RIGHTS:Slump cited in vet

May 26, 1998


                              HUMAN RIGHTS

              Slump cited in
              veto of refugee

              More than two million jobless

              Anuraj Manibhandu

              Thailand has hardened its resolve not to join a UN convention
              on refugees, citing the slump and the threat of high

              "We are not a signatory to the convention but we have accepted
              the principles since the 1970s," said one government official.

              He pointed to the approximately one million Khmers, Laotians
              and Vietnamese given first asylum in Thailand after communist
              takeovers in those countries in 1975 and the prolonged conflict
              in Cambodia since 1979.

              "Our policy is to give people asylum from fighting. When peace
              is regained, they should return to their country," said another
              official close to refugee affairs.

              "But we cannot accept as mandatory the matter of rights for
              refugees. We cannot give them rights to employment or
              education, especially not at this time."

              Thailand, which expects the slump to leave two million Thais
              unemployed, is faced with the problem of some 700,000 illegal
              migrant workers, mainly from Burma.

              The official was responding to a call from the UN High
              Commissioner for Refugees that Thailand should join the 1951
              convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967

              The call came from Denis McNamara, head of the UNHCR's
              International Protection Division, at a seminar that questioned the
              universality of today's response to the refugee challenge during
              this 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human
              Rights in 1948.

              Chulalongkorn University's law faculty co-hosted the seminar
              that drew government and non-government representatives as
              well as academics.

              Deputy PM Bhichai Rattakul told the seminar that the Universal
              Declaration defined a common view of liberty. He urged the
              continuation of dialogue towards durable solutions regarding
              refugees and human rights.

              Mr McNamara said Asia, despite its positive traditions and
              hospitality to refugees, had the fewest states that are party to
              international refugee instruments.

              Governments in the Philippines and Cambodia were the only
              ones in Southeast Asia to have signed the 1951 convention,
              which counts Beijing among its 136 worldwide signatories.

              Besides describing the refugee convention as an "instrument
              against impunity" for crimes against humanity, Mr McNamara
              pointed to safeguards for states, for instance the convention's
              allowance for governments to expel refugees where there are
              reasonable grounds to regard them as a danger to the security of
              the country.

              The clauses on wage-earning employment of concern to Thailand
              include one that requires refugees to be accorded "the most
              favourable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country
              in the same circumstances."

              The convention exempts a refugee from restrictions imposed on
              aliens for the protection of the national labour market if he or she
              has lived in the country of residence for three years, or has a
              spouse or child possessing the nationality of that country.

              On education, Thai authorities allowed six years of primary
              education in camps for Indochinese children during the 1970s
              and 1980s. The 1951 convention asks for more, saying refugees
              should be allowed treatment "not less favourable than that
              accorded to aliens generally" with regard to education other than
              that at elementary level.


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Last Modified: Tue, May 26, 1998