The Thailand police is known to be cracking down on illegal immigrants through an operation called "X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner." While the police has said that it aims to identify defaulters and visa holders who overstay, the operation has raised quite a few speculations on racial profiling and how this may also impact asylum-seekers.
Thailand is a popular tourist spot with millions of people travelling to the nation each year. While many are legal travellers, hundreds of undocumented people reportedly enter the country, due to borders that can be easily crossed.
The operation was started about a year back but has gained quite some momentum of late, with the police detaining over 1,000 people in the last few weeks. Most of the detained were found to have been overstaying their visa, reported the Agency France-Presse.
Though this may seem like a usual procedure, with many countries carrying out such crackdown at intervals, there have been concerns of how the operation had a racist inclination.
The police have reportedly been told to keep a keen eye on people of colour and have been briefed that a lot of scammers are Ugandans and Nigerians.
"The suspicious targets are the dark-skinned people," the AFP quoted an officer as saying while briefing his team. "First, we search their bodies, then we search their passports." By midnight, the Thai police had detained about 30 people, of which half are said to have been black.
In the first two weeks of October, the officials are said to have rounded up four Nigerians and 16 Thais for romance scams that lure single and lonely locals over the internet and dupe them. The police also detained a Laos national, who has overstayed his visa by about 11 years.
Amid these concerns, rights groups have said that it is not just within Thailand that the police has been cracking down on immigrants. The officials have also reportedly been detaining refugees and asylum-seekers, travelling to other countries via Bangkok.
Fortify Rights, a non-profit organisation, too said there are about 130 such people — 100 adults and 30 children — who have been detained and are being housed in deplorable conditions.
"Thailand's immigration crackdown has swept up refugees and asylum seekers, sent young children into horrid, prison-like conditions, and appears to have clear aspects of racial profiling against South Asians and Africans," the AFP quoted Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, as saying.
However, Thailand has denied the claims of racial profiling and said that the operation is aimed at bringing in "good people" and deporting the "bad people" from the country.
"Our job is to classify who are the good dark-skinned people and who are the ones likely to commit crimes," said immigration bureau chief Surachate Hakparn.