An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Thailand’s Immigration Detention Centres (IDC's) have become internationally notorious for squalid conditions and robbery, rape, and beatings by Thai police guards. They are built like high-security prisons: concrete cells, heavy bars, and armed guards. But the people in these cells are not dangerous criminals - they are mostly economic and political refugees from neighbouring countries and as, the following account shows, young children. This is the true underbelly of Thailand's "constructive engagement" policy with SLORC. Any refugee at any age who is caught outside of a refugee camp can end up here, whether a Karen farmer who fled being taken as a SLORC porter, a pro-democracy Burmese student who fled to Thailand after the 1988 massacres, a Shan girl was lured into Thailand by a brothel procurer's promise of a good job only to end up a brothel slave, or a labourer who fled Burma’s ruined economy seeking a better chance in Thailand's "economic miracle". Thai police put all such people in IDC cells until they can be deported back into the hands of SLORC. If SLORC gets them, they are usually put in another cell until they either pay a heavy bribe or are sent to be frontline porters and human minesweepers for the military.
Fortunately, the Thais generally used to take the deportees to within a kilometre or two of the border and drop them there, which made it possible for many to sneak back into Thailand to be arrested again later. However, now Thailand has clamped down on refugees, and they have recently been deporting hundreds of IDC inmates every week to the remote border site of Halockhani where they have been in the process of forcibly repatriating several thousand Mon refugees (see other related reports). They have also discussed with SLORC the possibility of handing all such people directly to SLORC military officials at places like Three Pagodas Pass and Myawaddy. If this happens, it is horrifying to think of what SLORC will do with these people. Even now, when they arrive in Halockhani many of them are extremely thin, weak and suffering severe mental and emotional trauma from their treatment by the Thai authorities. If this is the effect of the IDC on hardened adults, imagine its effect on children of 13, or 10, or 8 years of age. The 14year-old girl who gave the following testimony speaks surprisingly maturely for her age, but never forget that underneath it all she is still 14years old. She was interviewed in early August as she was being deported through Halockhani. She had already fled back to the Thai side of the border together with the Mon refugees who had sheltered her, when the Burmese Army attacked their camp on July 21. Since then the Mon refugees have been forcibly starved back across the border into SLORC territory once again by the Thai Army, and she has probably been driven across together with them. If not, she may be back in Bangkok, in another IDC cell.
Her name has been changed to protect her. Please use this report in anyway which may help stop the Thais from treating human beings this way, or which may help stop the SLORC from causing them to flee their own country in the first place.
NAME: Nyi Nyi Myint
DESCRIPTION: Burman/ Indian Muslim
ADDRESS: Pa'an Town (capital of Karen State)
FAMILY: 12 brothers and sisters, mother dead, father still (she hopes) alive
My parents had a small shop in the market in Pa'an. Then my mother died, and my father was alone to take care of us. So I left more than 5 years ago [no more than 9 years old]with some of my brothers and sisters, and our father stayed in Burma. My eldest sister went to Thailand first. Once she was okay there, she came back to take me and 2 other brothers and sisters with her to live in Thailand. We went by truck from Pa’an to Kawkareik, then to Mae Sot [in Thailand] and from Mae Sot to Bangkok, step by step. We went in a group - in our group there were 21 people. To get to Bangkok, we had to pay 200,000 Kyat for the whole group [in bribes].
In Bangkok I stayed in my sister's house. My sister had a small stand selling fruits, and I had to take care of the children in her house. Eleven people from our group of 21 stayed in her house, and the other 10 people stayed in another house. Her house only had 2 rooms. My other brother and sister were working with cement on a building site. I learned to speak just a little bit of Thai, but I couldn't go to school.
A bit more than one year ago I was arrested for the first time. I was arrested together with a boy from my family. He was 8 years old. They put us in jail [IDC], and I was in jail for 2 or 3 months. In the evenings, a policeman came to the cell to ask some women to go with him. The women didn't want to go, but the policeman said, "You have to go. We will give you some money and we will feed you." After that, even when the women didn't want to go he forced them. He grabbed their hands and took them with him. The police took 5 or 6 girls each time. Then in the morning, they sent the girls back to the cell. We asked the girls what the police did. They said the police told them to sit down near them. The man fed the girl with his spoon, the same one that he used, and then he made the girl feed him. Afterwards, they asked the girls to drink with them and after that, they told them to dance for them. [Interviewer’s Question: What if the girls refused?] How could they refuse to do what the police ordered them to do?!! They gave the girls some money afterwards. As for the rest of us, they wouldn't give us anything even if we begged them. [Note: it is quite clear that the girls she talks about were raped before being sent back in the morning but Nyi Nyi Myint is very young and clearly didn't want to talk about that.] Once when the police called 5 or 6 girls from the jail they called me too, but I told them I didn't want to go. The policeman then said that he would feed me and give me some money, but I told him I had already eaten. He said "And was it enough for you?". I said "Yes, it was enough", and then he didn't take me.
After 2 or 3 months they were deporting people to Three Pagodas Pass [a SLORC army post just across the border north of Sangkhlaburi, which is in Thailand's Kanchanaburi province]. At the IDC jail in Bangkok, they asked us for 100 Baht each for transport. Then when we got to Kanchanaburi they asked us for 50 Baht to sleep there [there is another IDC fail in Kanchanaburi], and they also asked us for 100 Baht more again. I only had 50 Baht so I couldn't pay, but a man paid for me. After that, they took us by truck to Three Pagodas Pass, and when we got there some people from a foreign organization gave us some rice. Then I stayed for 2 months in a village between Three Pagodas Pass and Sangkhlaburi [in those days, the deportation trucks usually just unloaded the deportees a short distance before reaching the border itself and it was easy for them to double back into Thailand]. While I was there I did some of the washing, cooking and helping to take care of the person who was looking after me. My elder sister's husband knew I was there, and after 2 months he came and took me back to Bangkok.
When I got back to Bangkok I did the same as before, just stayed in my sister's house and looked after the children. Then I was arrested again. I went out with my nephew to buy some water. While he was buying it, I sat down outside and the Thai police caught me in the street. They took me to the IDC office. When I got to the lockup a Thai policeman was whipping some women with a wire cable and a belt because they were drug addicts and prostitutes, and they had been taking drugs. This time they kept me in the jail for 20 days. I met some of my cousins who arrived in the jail 7 days after me - they are a family with 4 children. Now we've met again here at Halockhani. This time in the jail the police had 10 girls who they took every time, 9 Thais, or maybe they were Shans, and one Burmese girl. [Shans are racially closely related to Thais.] The police called them at about 6 p.m. and sent them back at 5 a.m. They did the same to them as to the other girls. They give them food and they have to drink, sometimes alcohol and sometimes other things. Sometimes the police give them money. Those girls were already in the jail when I arrived, and now they're still there. The police are using them, and I think that’s why they don't want to release them yet.
The police called me too, but I didn't go. There were 2 or 3 men who were guarding us, standing by the door. They were black men. [The word used means racially black African - these men may be African IDC prisoner/warders.] They said to me, "Don't go with those other girls. If you go you'll get troubles." They also said, "If the Thai police give you any food, don't eat it. You can get problems." The black men guards said that. I had 4 or 5 girl friends in the IDC, some girls a little older than me and some younger than me. Sometimes the police gave them some extra food to try to get them to go with them, but most of the time when the Thai police fed them they wouldn't eat it. They said they already had enough food with their rice.
In the IDC there were men who were beaten up, but not the women. The men were beaten up because they talked to the women, or sometimes because they had lost their papers or because they couldn't pay money to be transported. There were 2 full rooms of women and 3 full rooms of men. I don't know how many were in each room because I never went to the other rooms. In our room there were about 90 people. For one room, there was only one latrine and one place to shower, so it was very difficult. We had to take our baths during the night. The place was so narrow that it was difficult to sleep. We had to sleep on the floor with no mat or anything. There were many children who arrived together with their parents. The small children slept with their mothers.
In the IDC there were people from Burma, Laos, China, Cambodia and other countries, and I think even from Thailand. There were drug addicts there. We only got boiled rice to eat without anything else, no salt and no spices.
After 20 days I was deported. This time I didn't have to pay for transport from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, but from Kanchanaburi I had to pay. I only had 50 Baht. I gave them 50 Baht and I had to stay 2 weeks longer in Kanchanaburi IDC. Then they sent me here. I arrived here about 50 days ago, nearly 2 months. First I stayed with a family in Halockhani camp. When the Burmese troops attacked we just followed the other people, and when we got here I had to stay in this IDC shelter [in "New Halockhani" on the Thai side of the border, many of the IDC deportees were staying all together in one narrow bamboo and plastic sheet shelter]. Between 20 and 30 people sleep in here, men and women all together. I stay beside my relative's family.
I want to go back to Burma and stay with my father. I haven't heard from him since I left there. I don't know if my sister is still in Bangkok or not. My relatives here want to go back to Thailand, so I think I will try to go back to Bangkok with them and then go back to Burma through Mae Sot. [She will probably find that this is now impossible because of the Thai clampdown on refugees.]