Last week American actress Angelina Jolie visited Thailand’s Ban Mai Nai Soi camp which houses more than 18,000 refugees from Myanmar. Jolie is Goodwill Ambassador of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The government of Thailand is upset over the visit and Jolie’s comments on the plight of the refugees.
Jolie also expressed concern for the Rohingya whose situation has caught the world’s attention:
“I also hope the Rohingya situation stabilizes and their life in Myanmar improves so the people do not feel the desperate need to flee, especially considering how dangerous their journey has become,”
“I was saddened to meet a 21-year-old woman who was born in a refugee camp, who has never even been out of the camp and is now raising her own child in a camp”
Thailand is accused of abandoning and mistreating hundreds of Rohingya refugees who escaped Myanmar.
Below is a video clip on Youtube which shows Jolie’s visit in Thailand:
Thailand’s foreign minister warned UNHCR “that they should not comment on the matter because they have no mandate.” The minister added:
“The UNHCR should not have brought Jolie, its goodwill ambassador, to one of the nine refugee camps stringing the border which are run by Thailand's interior ministry.”
“The Thai government will issue a reprimand letter to UNHCR, asking why it allowed Angelina Jolie to visit the refugee camps.”
Bangkok Pundit believes that Jolie’s criticism was only mild:
Reprimand letter? As others have noted, Jolie’s criticism was not strongly worded and more implied than a direct Thai-government-is-evil statement. Yet, even such mild criticism has the Foreign Ministry in a hissy fit. Next time, the UNHCR should have invite someone like Sean Penn and there will surely be fireworks….
Pierre agrees that Jolie did not say anything directly critical of Thailand:
Jolie doesn't seem to say anything directly critical of Thailand, its government, or policies. What she does do, though, is draw attention to the plight of refugees and so-called “economic migrants” in Thailand.
Fear from Freedom, a Burmese blogger, is unhappy over the “western imposed democracy in eastern countries” and urges Jolie to ask the United States to accept Mexican workers in its borders:
“The international news we read this week about my country is sick as well, Angelina Jolie asked Thailand to accept the Burmese refugees. She should also ask US to accept the Mexican workers…The pictures show normal life like any other villages in Myanmar except that the victims were caged in that area for some people to tap funds from governments…There will always be problem with western imposed democracy in eastern countries as long as people do not understand the culture and stages of development of different parts of the globe.”
Angelina Jolie at a refugee camp in Thailand. Photo from UNHCR
Namizon, a Thai citizen, insists that Thailand has been very generous in accepting refugees from neighboring countries:
“…Did you know that Thais have always supported refugees from all nations around Thailand? We have refugee camps for Burmese-Kayan, Hmong-Laotian, Cambodian, etc. Thailand is just a small developing country; although we Thais have the heart, kindness and the willingness to help all those unfortunate people. We always try our best to support them, yet we still lack many resources; space, money, manpower and jobs to support the refugees.
“From my point of view, Thai government has a priority to take care of Thai people first. Call me selfish but that’s all the governments in all countries do, isn’t it? Even American Government does.
“The war in Viet Nam and Laos – which government took the major part in? American? Can I say that American Troops is the reason all these refugees flee their countries into Thailand? I’m not playing the blame game here, but isn’t it the right thing American Government has to do? Clearing up their mess after what they did? Instead of having a permanent camp in Thailand, American should offer to take ALL people affected by the war to relocate to USA. The fact? US only takes educated-skilled labors; doctor, teacher, religion leader, etc. That’s why the resettlement process is taking so long. Americans only wants USEFUL refugees. Those who didn’t pass “the bar” get left behind and stuck in Thai camp, cannot return to the countries they fled, cannot go to America.”
The Nation, Thailand’s top English broadsheet, points to Myanmar as the cause of the refugee problem:
“We don't need to dance to Jolie's tune just because she is a Hollywood superstar. What we need to do is come up with a sound policy that is based on legal and humanitarian principles. Instead of blaming Jolie, who has the luxury of walking away from this after a few days of photo ops, why don't we start talking about the root cause of the problem? Or is that against the unwritten rules of Asean when it comes to “domestic matters” in a neighbouring member country?
“This particular problem is caused by the Burmese junta – a source of headaches and heartache for Thailand, all Asean members and the international community.”