NGO Calls for More Virus Protection in Detention Facilities

Medical personnel inside Songkhla Immigration Detention, which has since been turned into a field hospital to treat infected detainees, on April 28, 2020.
Medical personnel inside Songkhla Immigration Detention, which has since been turned into a field hospital to treat infected detainees, on April 28, 2020.

BANGKOK — Labor right groups urged the government to better protect foreign prisoners from the coronavirus, just as a Deputy PM on Wednesday is scheduled to visit a detention facility where 42 foreigners contracted the virus.

The Migrant Working Group, which represents local and international labor rights groups, said the government should treat infected foreign inmates in the same manner as other patients. They also demanded detainees to be moved to a more ample facility in order to curb the spread of virus.

“This is considered to be the first outbreak in the prison environment for Thailand,” the statement wrote. “It reflects the limitations of preventative measures in detention facilities. […] They do not have enough space for detainees to observe social distancing and might also lack preventative measures compared to other public venues.”

The move comes after 42 foreigners imprisoned at Songkhla Immigration Detention Facility were diagnosed with COVID-19, raising concerns over the wellbeing and hygiene of prisons nationwide.


Police Maj. Gen. Surapong Chaichan, deputy commander of the Immigration Bureau, said the detainees are currently under care of health officials. The detention facility has since been put under lockdown and turned into a field hospital.

“Please be rest assured that the Immigration Bureau will take care of all detainees. Although they are foreigners, we will follow human rights principles,” Surapong said Wednesday.

The group also urged the media to refrain from making any false remarks about the migrant workers; they said some media agencies mistakenly lumped the detainees together as legitimate migrant workers, which could further a bias against the workers.

“News reports that are causing confusion about the migrant workers might lead to discrimination against them,” the statement continued. “It might deprive their access to healthcare services.”

Although they praised the government for providing healthcare coverage to migrant workers and highlighted the works of migrant workers who volunteered to be interpreters, the group said the government should also consider economic relief measures for them.

“They should have access to relief measures defined by the law or outlined by the government,” the labor rights activists said. “If they lack economic security, it will lead to the lack of health security as well.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross also warned earlier this month that walled off prisons are no less susceptible to the outbreak since they are often overcrowded and lacking hygiene products.

“Prisons are not walled off from the world when it comes to disease transmission,” Vincent Ballon of the ICRC said. “Detainee health must be protected, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also for the good of wider society.”

Songkhla governor Jaruwat Kliangklao said the infected detainees are currently in stable condition. Six of them have been moved to a hospital after their symptoms worsened, though none of them are in critical condition.


Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul is also set to visit the facility as part of the fact-finding effort.

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Jail Turned Into Field Hospital After 42 Foreigners Caught Virus