Hope fades to fear for Chinese refugees in junta-run Thailand

Thailand is one arena for China's religious persecution abroad

By the Agence France-Presse in the South China Morning Post

Preferring to risk death than face deportation, Dong Junming boarded a boat off Thailand’s coast alongside eight fellow Chinese asylum-seekers in early March with the improbable plan of steering themselves to New Zealand.

He and his group are part of a growing number of refugees – especially Chinese nationals – who feel Thailand is no longer a safe haven under junta rule.

“I was desperate and frightened,” Dong, 52, said of his attempted sea escape. “Even though I could have died, I had to try.”

Thailand has a complex and ambivalent attitude towards refugees. It still holds hundreds of thousands in border camps – most the legacy of regional cold war conflict years – but it does not legally recognise refugees or offer asylum. This places the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) in charge of handling a rising tide of applications.

Porous borders and a reputation for religious tolerance has long drawn those seeking sanctuary, with ad hoc law enforcement allowing arrivals to settle into the shadows, or more often, move on to a third country.

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