USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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USCRI Launches the Thailand Committee for Refugees

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is pleased to announce that our field office in Thailand has become an independent national organization: the Thailand Committee for Refugees (TCR). The new entity will focus on building local support for refugee rights under the leadership of Veerawit Tianchainan, who has served as the Country Director of USCRI Thailand since 2009. USCRI will continue operating in Bangkok through a partnership with Asylum Access to advocate for refugee rights throughout Southeast Asia.

Some 140,000 refugees live in camps along Thailand's border with Burma.  Not allowed to work or even leave the camps, refugees in Thailand subsist on food rations provided by an alliance of NGOs. 
“I am thrilled that we could help the Thailand Committee for Refugees become a reality,” said Lavinia Limón, President and CEO of USCRI. “Thailand has generously hosted tens of thousands of refugees over the past 30 years and it is time for a locally created organization to take the lead in advocating for better treatment of refugees and refugee rights.”

The USCRI Thailand office was established after the tsunami at the request of Burmese civil society groups that were overwhelmed by the disaster. As the crisis abated, USCRI set up an office in Bangkok to work with Thai officials on easing restrictions on refugees who are confined to camps and ineligible for work permits.

Five years later, USCRI Thailand’s many accomplishments include establishing a Business, Labor, and Faith Coalition with more than 40 local organizations; holding an innovative business plan competition in conjunction with Siam University for collaborative income generation projects along the Thailand-Burma border; and piloting programs to allow refugee children to attend schools alongside Thai children. The office also conducted extensive research, finding that 60 percent of the Thai population did not know what a refugee is, and 79 percent felt that refugees should be allowed to work.

The 1951 United Nations (U.N.) Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person outside his country of nationality with a well-founded fear of persecution who is unable to avail himself of the protection of his country. The Convention grants refugees the right to move freely, practice professions, obtain wage-earning employment, and access social services such as education and health care. In practice, however, host countries often restrict these rights. The Royal Thai Government has recently become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council but is not currently a signatory to this international law.

The newly formed TCR hopes to move both public opinion and the Royal Thai Government to join the 147 countries who have signed this agreement. “It is time for Thailand to join the community of nations and sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention,” declared Ms. Limón.  “Thailand is a leader among nations in economic development, freedom of the press, and educational achievement. They should not lag behind on the treatment of refugees.”

USCRI thanks our donors for their generous support over the years, including the U.S. State Department, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Open Society Institute, and the Oak Foundation. We encourage donors to consider the benefits of supporting locally-led national efforts, such as TCR, to protect and assist refugees in a manner consistent with the human rights due to all people.

Learn more about the plight of refugees in Thailand>>

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