Economic “refugees”?


Last week I posted on the shocking treatment of the Rohingya migrants, that Thai authorities had been intercepting and sending back to sea boats of Rohingya migrants.  The latest from the Associated Press is that Thailand is jailing the most recent 66 arrivals, and after releasing them, plans to expel them.  According to Thai authorities, the disheveled migrants don’t qualify for refugee status because they came to Thailand for “economic reasons.”

Thailand’s defense of its position is of course not factually based.  The Rohingya may be poor but their poverty is intricately connected with the persecution they face in Myanmar. What is more interesting though, theoretically, is that Thailand used this particular defense.

A peculiar tenet of refugee law is that priority is always given to people fleeing from oppression over people fleeing from poverty.  I completely support granting refugee status to  victims of genocide, human rights violations and discrimination.  (My family was given refugee status due to strong Antisemitism in the Soviet Union).  But poverty, especially acute poverty, can be just as dehumanizing and limiting to people’s development.  There may be good legal reasons to not assign the “refugee” label to economic migrants, but I would argue that there are moral reasons to give them the right to enter and work.

Picture source: AP


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