Bangkok, the 15th of October 2010: Police originally arrested 155 people. However, some were freed having presented valid travel documents, according to Worawat Amornwiwat, a spokesman from the Thai Immigration Offices.
Some of the remaining 128 Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka have papers showing their status as UN sanctioned refugees while others have documentation showing that they had applied for the status, police said.
“These people are minority Tamils fleeing war in their country and seeking asylum through the UN. But they came to Thailand with tourist visas, allowing them to stay only 60 days, and they overstayed,” stated Mr. Amornwiwat.
At present Thai Immigration authorities are in the process of contacting the Sri Lankan Embassy in order to arrange deportation procedures, based on charges of breaching 60-day tourist visas.
Mr. Amornwiwat explained that there was currently no provision for Sri Lankan refugees in Thailand, despite their registration with the UN. No comment has been released by the UN refugee agency.
Activists based in Canada, a country seeking to change its immigration laws in response to an influx of boats arriving with hundreds of Tamil refugees, said those arrested in Thailand were genuinely in need of protection and may face persecution should they be returned to their homeland.
“We are very disturbed by the arrests as it includes genuine refugees seeking international protection,” the group said in a statement.
A flood of people seeking asylum in foreign countries has emanated from the crackdown on the Tamil Tigers by Sri Lanka’s government, ending a lengthy civil war only last year.
Thai media reports insinuated that numerous of the detained migrants are actually members of the Tamil Tigers, seeking refuge in a third country. However, Mr. Amornwiwat has denied those claims stating that most of the detainees were women and children.
“There is nothing related to Tamil Tigers… These people are just families, mostly women and children,” he said.