When your next door neighbours are crying out for help, fleeing from their home for safety, what should you do?
It seems the answer is obvious but for some Thais it’s not.
Will you ignore, shun them, or even say it’s none of your business? This is the dilemma some Thais and the Thai government of Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha are facing as Myanmar killings continue two months after the Feb. 1 military coup. Over 500 people have been slain by the Burmese junta who are facing a fierce resistance from many citizens.
Dear Thai citizens, this is a moral question that we all collectively as a society must face. What shall we do?
Shall we just turn a blind eye and say this is none of our business? Or shall we rise above the occasion and lend our next-door neighbours whom we share the longest common border with – at 2,401 kilometres – a helping hand on humanitarian ground?
The fact is, it’s appalling to learn that not a few Thais advocate the former, particularly after some 2,000 to 3,000 Karens crossed the Salween River into the Thai border at Mae Hong Son province’s Sob Moey District last weekend. Some were sent back, or “returned home” voluntarily after 48 hours or so, depending whether you believe the Thai government or the Thai and foreign journalists.
On social media, Twitter in particular, some Thais freely advocate a selfish stance that we cannot afford to help, or shouldn’t even bother to help. They argue with others calling for Thais to be humane.
Some of those who say the Thai government and Thai people shouldn’t help even cited the fact that Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, thus have no specific legal framework for protecting asylum seekers.
“You need to be knowledgeable before inviting the enemies into your house. The Kingdom of Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocal so we have the ‘right’ to discriminate for the sake of our nation and people’s interests. In the past, we’d helped adequately already,” Twitter user @vnomenon replied to me on Tuesday after I called for Thais to lend a helping hand and be generous to those from Myanmar in need for and condemn the Thai government for not doing enough.
Images of razor wires have spread and been confirmed as authentic and a question arose whether some of the 3,000 who fled into Thailand were pushed back or not.
My reply to the Thai Twitter user was convention or no convention, this is first and foremost a humanitarian issue.
Let us not lose our humanity to the narrowly defined “national interests.”
Others were not convinced. Twitter user @Noona_Infinity wrote: “See Europe as an example. People who seek asylum there don’t work. They flee the camps and commit crimes. Please don’t call me mean but I love my country.”
Then there was a columnist on Thansettakij business news site writing an article with the headline, “Myanmar Crisis is an Opportunity for Thai Businessmen.”
Need I say more?
Politics in Myanmar is certainly complicated, with a dozen armed ethnic groups, racism against Rohingya people, geopolitics and more. Let one thing be clear, however. This is the time for the Thai people to be more selfless and less selfish. This is the time for Thais to prove that we are a humane society and will do what we can, despite our limited means, to help our neighbours in distress, fleeing from danger if not death.
On Tuesday, with the debate rages, PM Prayut reassured reporters that Thailand “won’t push back refugees” fleeing Myanmar into the kingdom. This is a good sign but I will take his word with a big grain of salt as it was the same Prayut who told reporters repeatedly that he won’t stage a coup only to have done it in May 2014.
It is also the same man who after the coup wrote a song with a lyric “asking for a little more time” in power as a junta leader only to end up staying in power for nearly five years and until now after the 2019 elections where the new election rules were written by his chosen men and women.
If you’re not convince about Prayut’s trustworthiness, or lack thereof, consider the fact that Thailand became the first nation to unofficially welcome a foreign representative of the Burmese junta, while the estimate 3 to 4 million Burmese in Thailand are now told not to protests at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok or the local U.N. Office, citing COVID-19 emergency decree.
In Japan, a country hit harder by COVID-19, Burmese demonstrators were still allowed to protest and I watched it taking place live in the Okayama, west of Japan.
What’s more, Thai immigration police put posters along the Thai-Myanmar border with six leading anti-Myanmar coup figures on a watch list.
“They may cross the border into Thailand to continue anti-Myanmar-government resistance,” part of the text on the poster read. One of the six who appeared on the poster was the Burmese permanent representative to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun who openly criticized the coup in Feb at the U.N. General Assembly.
Photos by Thai Immigration Police along Thai-Myanmar border showing 6 key anti-Burmese junta figures bar from entry in2 #Thailand. It includes #Myanmar Permanent Rep to UN who publicly denounced the coup. Shame on Thai govt of #Prayut Chan-cha..Photo ht Sirote K. #SaveMyanmar pic.twitter.com/O2KIhAQ7Cp
— Pravit Rojanaphruk (@PravitR) March 27, 2021
How shameful and disgusting was that poster? If that’s not enough, less than two weeks ago, mysterious 700 sacks of rice were found left on the Thai-side of the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Hong Son province.
Prayut again eventually acknowledged the Thai government allowed Thai merchants to buy supplies for the Burmese junta (who slaughter its own people as best they could in order to remain in power). The supplies, according to Prayut, were to be delivered across the border on “humanitarian grounds.”
Also, Thailand was among the only 12 nations which sent a representative to attend the murderous Myanmar Armed Forces Day celebrations a week ago. On that day, over a hundred people were killed while the Thai representative cheers on the Bumese junta.
This occurs as defense chiefs of a dozen countries, including the U.S., U.K., Japan and even South Korea, issued a joint statement condemning the Burmese junta’s atrocities. Is there a better word than “disgusting”? Prayut defended the decision, citing the need to maintain a “communication channel” with the Burmese generals.
Then by Friday, local media in Thailand including Thai-language Khaosod, reported that 46 Karens fleeing air strikes walked for five hours to the border and tried to cross Salween River into Thailand but were prevented from doing so.
The Thai and foreign media, and concerned Thais must keep a close eye on Prayut and his men and make sure he keeps his word. Allowing seven injured Karens to be hospitalized in Thailand on Tuesday was a good start but as the storm rages in Myanmar, we must be resolute in insisting on putting humanitarian principles first before national interests.
If we succeed, and God speeds us, we and others shall look back decades from now with no shame and say Thais did not shy away from helping their Burmese neighbours when the time came to show who we are.