At a recent gathering of corporate and state managers in Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra described George Bush as a “good friend and a Texan.”
“We’re both Texas cowboys,” Thaksin added.
Though Thailand hasn’t invaded and occupied any countries lately, itâ€™s government is certainly not one for subtleties when it comes to ‘cowboy’-style state violence domestically, having killed 3,000 people in its 2002-2003 ‘drug war’ and most recently being responsible for the killing of some 80 demonstrators in the south of the country.
But even by its own (appalling) standards, it was still a shock to hear that Thaksin’s administration had decided this week decided to deport 9,300 pregnant women from Thailand.
The women, orignally from other parts of the Mekong region, were singled out for deportation after attending a medical check-up along with some 60,000 other migrants, mostly from Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. Such medical tests have been mandatory for licensed female migrants since 2000, in order to screen these workers for pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.
The logic presented by the government in support of this latest deportation is a particularly clear example of doublespeak:
Thai law does not grant citizenship to children born to migrants. Therefore, these children technically end up becoming stateless if they are born in Thailand. So, to save these poor children from statelessness and its disadvantages, the benevolent Thai state is embarking on a mass deportation of their mothers back to their ‘home countries.’
How humanitarian of them.
Sanitsuda Ekachai recently summed up the likely effects of this charity in the Bangkok Post:
“[W]e are not talking here about a handful of women, but nearly 10,000… If this policy is enforced, many babies’ lives will be cut short because their poor mothers cannot afford to lose their jobs… [m]any women migrant workers may also die from blood loss and severe complications caused by unsafe abortions. Our society likes to condemn women for seeking abortions. But who are the real killers here? As for the women migrant workers who decide to keep their babies, their families will be shattered by forced repatriation, not knowing when they will be together again.”
Adding to the deplorable nature of this crime– and it is a crime under international accords– the majority of the women are originally from Burma, which of course is under the rule of the brutal SPDC regime.
Though relations between the Thai and Burmese governments generally range between frosty and hostile, the deportation of migrants and refugees is something on which they seem to have found a common ground. In fact, since mid-2003, such deportations have been undertaken through direct agreements between the Thai government and the SPDC regime. According to the Singapore-based NGO Think Centre:
â€œIn 2003, the Thai government deported up to 10,000 undocumented Burmese each month by returning them to the border in Mae Sot, but did not directly handover migrants to the Burmese government. In June 2003, the Thai government had an agreement with the Burmese government. Since August 2003, the Thai authorities have formally deported 400 undocumented Burmese per month to a military-run holding centre. The undocumented migrants face detention and penalties in Burma.â€
So, though Thailand and its close ally the US often criticize the human rights situation in Burma, pregnant women who have escaped the ravages of the SPDCâ€™s economic, political, and social policies can apparently still be sent back there… in order to protect their children, no less!
Though on a totally different scale, this case is reminiscent of one which involved another in the league of cowboys- the UK government, through Home Secretary Jack Straw, when it sent an Iraqi refugee back to Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2000 because he could be assured a fair trial there. Not long afterwards, the brutality of the same regime was used as political capital in support of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq…
‘Time to stop mad cowboy disease’, as the anti-war slogan goes.
(This is an edited version of an article posted on the weblog In The Water, http://inthewater.typepad.com)