Opinion: The Thai conservative rhetoric on Myanmar refugees has been eye opening

Over the last five days, the Myanmar junta has launched military offensive in ethnic regions and against ethnic militias. The operations has caused a humanitarian crisis with refugees fleeing the violence and coming into Thailand.

Thailand’s government has had to wrestle with internal criticism and international pressure in their bid to deal with the refugees. Mixed messages from civil servants and the cabinet means the situation is still not certain with no clear policy guidelines on whether or not to accept the refugees. (Read more here)

What has been eye-opening clear is the arguments coming out of conservative circles in Thailand who have used the opportunity to not only compliment the current government but also argue against any humanitarian outreach.

Praise for Prayut

Since coming into power on February 1, Myanmar’s coup-leaders have overseen a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that have caused over 500 deaths with the numbers continuing to rise.

The junta in Myanmar has had no problem isolating the country amid growing international condemnation. Its policies seem to be pushing the country into economic oblivion and international isolation.

Seeing this, many Thai conservatives are taking to social media to offer praise to General Prayut Chan-ocha and General Prawit Wongsuwan for carrying out a “good coup.” According to these conservative voices, Thailand is lucky to have Prayut and his coup-cohorts because they cared about the country and were determined to fix Thailand’s ailing economy. Even more, the generals eventually returned the country back to democracy without killing anyone.

I suppose these conservative voices don’t take into account the dozens of dissidents that have been arrested, charged, imprisoned by the Prayut junta and subsequent Prayut government in order to keep their stranglehold on power.

They are probably not factoring in the fact that Thai Society is even more fractured now than before the coup, that a constitution drafted by the generals has become the major contention point that will likely lead to more widespread chaos.

They’re also forgetting how mismanaged the economy has been even before Covid-19 through a wrench into an already broken machine.

No. Apparently to the conservatives, we’ve been the beneficiary of a good coup and we should be thankful that we do not have the Myanmar junta ruling the country.

The bar has been set and it is very low indeed.

Appalling thoughts

Another line of thoughts put forth among many Thais is that we should ignore our humanitarian responsibilities because 3,000 Karen fleeing across the border represents 3,000 potential covid cases.

When news broke that the border security forces turned away some of the refugees, many Thais with this view took to social media and private messaging groups to express thanks and relief that Thailand would not have to deal with more in-need and at-risk populations coming into the country and polluting it with possible virus infections.

They are probably not forgetting that by pushing them back, Thailand is placing them in combat zones where they could face injury or death. Apparently, those concerns are not ours and should not factor into our decision making.

The conservative voices in Thailand like to say that they have the moral high ground, that the pro-democracy forces are decadent people with no respect for tradition or culture.

But after the voices that have emerged this weekend decrying innocent, helpless refugees, it is clear that the conservatives have no moral authority on anything at all.

Photo: Courtesy of MFA

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