VIDEO: Thai soldiers destroy footbridge used by Burmese refugees fleeing unrest

Screenshot via Fortify Rights

In a video posted online on Tuesday, Thai soldiers can be seen dismantling a footbridge in Tak province on the border of Myanmar. The bridge was used by Burmese refugees fleeing unrest in Karen state to cross over into Thailand in recent months. Human rights organisations are urging the Thai authorities to investigate their forces’ treatment of refugees. The Thai army say they destroyed the bridge to stop crime.

A Thai soldier asks the anonymous cameraman, “What are you filming? Do you want to die?” as three Thai soldiers destroy the footbridge over the Wa Le River, a tributary of the Moei River at the Thai – Myanmar border.

The bridge connected Thailand to Karen State in Myanmar, where the Burmese junta have allegedly carried out airstrikes and killed civilians in recent months in unrest which began on February 1 last year when the junta took power of Myanmar by military coup, ousting the democratically-elected government at that time.

Bangkok-based human rights group Fortify Rights – who posted the video – made the following statements…

“The principle of “non-refoulement” prohibits denying entry to those fleeing persecution.”

“Thai authorities should investigate their forces’ treatment of refugees.”

Fortify Rights confirmed the video was taken two months ago on the Myanmar side of the border. In the background, a crying child and people speaking Karen language can be heard.

“Sources familiar with the bridge and the area told Fortify Rights that Myanmar refugees, especially children and older people, used the bridge to flee violence and persecution and that informal humanitarian workers used it to transport lifesaving aid from Thailand to internally displaced persons to internally displaced people (IDPs) in Myanmar.”

The 3rd Army Area of the Thai army addressed the video in a statement on Wednesday…

“The video clip depicting Thai soldiers breaking off a cross-border bamboo bridge was taken before the fighting inside Myanmar flared up, and the bridge was illegal… The bridge has nothing to do with the migration of displaced persons… It was conducted following an order by the Tak border authorities to prevent illegal groups from doing their criminal activities… At that time, there was no fighting between Myanmar soldiers and ethnic minority force, and there were no displaced people.”

The Thai army’s statement is nonsensical given that displaced persons from Karen state have continually fled unrest and crossed over the border into Thailand since February last year when the military junta took power over Myanmar. Furthermore, different footage taken in January this year (before Thai soldiers allegedly destroyed the bridge) shows a total of 45 people – including women and children – lining up to cross the river into Thailand to escape violence in Karen state, according to Fortify Rights.

Thai authorities have been accused of forcing Burmese refugees to return to Myanmar after an alleged order from Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to prevent “illegal immigration.” Historically, refugees from Myanmar have struggled to be seen as such in the eyes of Thai authorities, who classify them as “economic migrants” rather than political refugees. Without the proper documentation, no legal route into Thailand is available for Burmese refugees, who are forced to enter the kingdom illegally out of fear of persecution from Myanmar’s military junta.

In December 2019, the Thai government enacted a regulation to “identify people in need of protection and to grant them legal status and access the necessary public services.” However, the regulation has not been implemented in reality in many cases, according to reports of interviews with refugees. Without legal status in Thailand, refugees face criminal penalties under Thailand’s 1979 Immigration Act which prohibits unauthorised entry or stay in Thailand. Refugees are subject to arrest, detention, forced return or refoulement as a result.

Executive director of Fortify Rights suggested that Thailand should create a nationwide scheme to issue ID cards to refugees that provide them with genuine protection. Last month, the Associated Press reported that refugees were being sold illegal “police cards” for 350 baht each under the premise that they would be protected.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that the military junta in Myanmar has killed at least 1,821 civilians – including many pro-democracy activists – since the coup happened last year.

Fortify Rights said that since February this year, they have interviewed 15 refugees from Myanmar on the Thai-Myanmar border, three U.N. officials and humanitarian aid workers. The interviewees claimed that Thai authorities had arrested, detained and extorted money from Burmese refugees.

SOURCE: Benar News


World News


Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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