As part of a vast operation, police have detained a thousand people. Alleged Nigerian and Ugandan "romance scammers" are the main target. Human rights groups warn that refugees and asylum seekers are being arrested.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) - "Dark-skinned" people are the target of a police operation aimed at expelling foreign workers and illegal migrants.
Launched by the country’s military junta a year ago, operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner has raised questions about racial profiling involving asylum seekers, with Africans and South Asians as the main victims.
In recent weeks, the crackdown on illegal immigration has put about a thousand people into detention centres.
“Our job is to classify who are the good dark-skinned people and who are the ones likely to commit crimes,” said immigration bureau chief Surachate Hakparn.
The target groups include “romance scammers”, i.e. people who lure lonely locals online to defraud them of cash, especially those from Nigeria or Uganda.
Human rights groups warn however that refugees and asylum seekers who transit through Bangkok en route to a third country are also victims of police operations as they lack legal protections. Thailand is not a party to the United Nations convention on refugees.
More than 70 Pakistani Christians were rounded up and detained this month by police under charges of illegal entry and overstay even though they fled religious persecution in their homeland.
In any case, Thailand has one of the largest migrant populations in all of Southeast Asia.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the country is the host of some 4-5 million migrant workers, plus about a million illegals, especially from Myanmar.
Their situation and that of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and Laotians became very uncertain as of 1 January 2018 when a moratorium on a repressive decree on unregistered workers was lifted.
A source told AsiaNews that for the authorities “dark-skinned” actually refer to immigrants from neighbouring Myanmar.
"For years, Thailand has been exposed to a massive immigration,” the source said, “favoured in part by porous national borders and historical and geographical factors.
“In the western part of the country, Mae Hong Son province still hosts UN refugee camps, where people fleeing from Myanmar have been welcomed, especially Karens. Akha and Lahu settled instead in the area of Chiang Rai, in the northern mountains.”
However, “In recent years, immigration has involved not only the tribal people but also Burmese." At present, "The Thai economy has gone through a period of stagnation, which is why immigrants from Myanmar meet the demand for low paid workers.”
As a result of this, "Another issue is widespread intolerance by the Thais vis-à-vis people from Myanmar, who are seen as 'those who steal jobs'. For years the Thai government has benefited from this situation, especially at a time when a military junta is in power.
"Politically, there is no precise direction to follow as things are dictated by contingency. Only now is the military trying to remedy a situation badly managed for years.
“Initiatives such as the one against illegal immigration are nothing more than flash in the pan. Sooner or later citizens will forget it and everything will go back to the way it was before."