Video released by an NGO showing a Thai soldier destroying a bamboo footbridge used by refugees from Myanmar to cross into Thailand has raised concerns over rights violations.
In a segment of a 16-minute video posted online after being filmed from the Myanmar side of the Wa Le River, which separates the two nations, a soldier is seen hacking away at lengths of bamboo laid across the waterway.
One of two Thai soldiers standing on the opposite bank shouts out to the person filming the incident. “What are you filming, [expletive]? Do you want to die” the soldier is heard yelling.
The Myanmar-based group Fortify Rights, which obtained the footage, says the bridge was used by refugees fleeing deadly violence inside Myanmar where the military junta seized power in a bloody coup in February last year.
By dismantling the bridge, the group says, Thailand’s military has closed off an escape route for desperate refugees.
“The Thai authorities should ensure any investigation into the situation on the border is aimed at protecting refugee rights, not further violating them,” Amy Smith, executive director at Fortify Rights, said in a statement.
“Arbitrary arrests and the destruction of this footbridge demand urgent attention,” Smith added.
The clip follows earlier footage from January obtained by Fortify Rights in which Thai soldiers destroyed another bridge constructed across the river while dozens of people, including women and children, are lining up to cross into Thailand.
“Sources familiar with the bridge and the area told Fortify Rights that Myanmar refugees, especially children and older people, used the bridge to flee violence and persecution and that informal humanitarian workers used it to transport lifesaving aid from Thailand to internally displaced persons in Myanmar,” the rights group said.
Over the past year hundreds of thousands of people from Myanmar have crossed illegally into Thailand, fleeing political persecution and economic destitution.
Dozens of migrants from Myanmar are arrested daily in Thailand after crossing surreptitiously across the border with the help of people smugglers in the hope of finding work.
Thailand’s military-allied government refuses to recognize people fleeing Myanmar as genuine asylum seekers, considering them as economic migrants.
Fortify Rights has called on Thai authorities to create a system whereby refugees are protected from arbitrary arrest and deportation.
“The Thai government should create a formal nationwide system to issue identification cards to refugees that provide genuine protection,” Smith said.
“It’s in the government’s interest to facilitate a process in line with international standards to identify and recognize refugees within their borders. Such a process would help prevent extortion and other abuses and provide critical information on new arrivals to Thailand.”
This story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.