Thai authorities release Vietnamese dissident with UN refugee status

A Vietnamese political dissident granted refugee status by the United Nations but held by immigration authorities in Thailand for possible deportation was released on bail, he told RFA on Wednesday.

Authorities detained Chu Manh Son with four other Vietnamese refugees on April 8 when he went to the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok to request a police report for an immigration application to relocate to Canada with his family members, who also have U.N. refugee status.

Son said lawyers helped to get him and another political refugee, Nguyen Van Them, released on bail on Tuesday, though Them’s wife, Nguyen Thi Luyen, and two children are still being held because they have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“Thanks to the endless efforts of our lawyers and U.N. representatives, late yesterday the Immigration Detention Center agreed to let our lawyers bail us out providing that we will have to show up at their office on a monthly basis,” Son told RFA.

Thai police arrested Son after he failed to present a passport, which he did not have since he was forced to flee Vietnam in 2017 after being sentenced by a court in Nghe An province to 30 months in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

They transferred Son and the other refugees — a family of four, who also did not have passports — to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) where they were held for possible deportation, RFA reported on Monday.

After a hearing during which they all were charged with illegally residing in Thailand, they had to pay fines and remained in custody at the IDC to await deportation orders.

“We were very worried because the judge ruled that we had to pay a fine and said that we could be deported,” Son said.

In order to be freed on bail, Son said he and Them had to be verified as refugees by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and directly managed by the organization, post the bail, and pay a COVID-19 test fee.

Son said he alone paid nearly U.S. $2,000 in total for the fine, bail and coronavirus test.

The lawyers are still working to get Luyen and her children released on bail to avoid possible deportation, he said.

Vietnamese dissidents often flee to Thailand to avoid persecution by the government for political and religious reasons, though the country is not a signatory of the U.N.’s 1951 Refugee Convention, which prohibits sending refugees back to their home countries if they face threats to their life or freedom.

People running to Thailand to escape persecution therefore face the risk of being arrested by immigration authorities and treated as illegal immigrants, though they seek help from the UNHCR’s office in Bangkok in hopes of being resettled in a third country.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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