It’s hard to not wake up sick to your stomach when you’ve been thinking about this all night long:
On Jan 11, Deputy Prime Minister Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, in a suit, tie and face mask, gave a press conference at the National Immigration Bureau. He was joined by Immigration Bureau Commander Pol Lt Gen Wuthi Liptapallop, also in a face mask; Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) Minister Issara Somchai; and 557 Cambodians, some who had lost their legs, and who were the apparent cause for face masks.
The officials, standing before the cameras and a table piled high with crutches and prosthetic limbs, claimed the day kicked off their campaign against human trafficking and smuggling gangs.
The 557 Cambodians – a group of 220 men and 337 women, many elderly or severely disabled – were deported as illegal migrants and dumped rather unceremoniously at the border the next day.
Stay Classy, Thailand. And there’s nothing classier than rounding up a bunch of cripples, elders, and children, and then treating their prosthetic limbs as illegal implements in some sort of cop-on-steroids photo op.
The Cambodians were said to be beggars. They had been rounded up in a sweep of Bangkok streets in the four days before the press conference, on the heels of Bangkok Deputy Governor Teerachon Manomaiphibul’s declaration that transnational trafficking rings were working on the city’s streets and needed to be tackled.
But don’t be confused: D.G. Teerachon isn’t concerned with these people as victims of international human trafficking; because they are Khmer, he has no difficulty simply considering the victims the criminals. For shame. And if his behavior towards the hundreds of victimized Khmer on Bangkok streets wasn’t clear enough, he made his motivation for the exercise clear in his words:
“Beggars disturb foreign tourists and damage the tourism image of Thailand,” said Pol Lt Gen Wuthi at the time.
No one powerful enough to make serious changes is likely listening, but anti-trafficking organizations have begun to make some noise:
Yet while anti-trafficking was the pretext for the crackdown, Thailand’s anti-trafficking policy, which has taken many agencies, many years and many baht to craft, seems to have been summarily dismissed.
While no one disputes Thailand’s right to follow its own immigration laws – indeed hundreds of illegal Cambodian migrants are deported each day – the action troubled a number of observers and organisations that contend the Cambodian beggars were deported in violation of Thailand’s own Anti-trafficking in Persons Act, without the screening to identify trafficking victims or individuals entitled to protection.
In the days following the deportation, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), an affiliation of 35 civil organisations in the region, issued a statement protesting against the “deportation of Cambodian beggars without due process”, and called for appropriate screening mechanisms and respect for the rights of migrants who should not be treated as criminals.
While racism is a clearly operative aspect of the action here, clearing the streets of beggars and the homeless for the benefit of business is a global practice, found everywhere from my own hometown of Saint Paul (before the Republican National Convention of 2008) to Phnom Penh (on a regular basis, and definitely before the donor summits)