On 21 January 2019, representatives of 7 Thai Government agencies signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternatives to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centres (ATD-MOU), as well as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to implement the ATD-MOU starting in September 2020. The ATD-MOU was a concrete outcome of a pledge made by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during the 2016 Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the United Nations in New York. At the summit, he publicly pledged to end the immigration detention of refugee and asylum seeker children in Thailand. 

Ever since the ATD-MOU was signed 3 years ago, IDC and HOST International have worked in partnership to collate and strengthen the evidence-base that can be used to increase practical understanding of community-based, rights-based, and gender-responsive ATD within the Thai urban refugee context. IDC and HOST have also been working together, and with various local partners, to strengthen ATD policy and practice in Thailand during this time

To mark the 3rd anniversary of the ATD-MOU, IDC, HOST International and the Embassy of Canada to Thailand organised an event: “Strengthening Community-based ATD in Thailand: Lessons Learned From the Past 3 Years.” This event was funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) and was held at the Novotel Sukhumvit Bangkok on 28 February 2022.

Over 60 people attended from a diverse group of stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organisations, UN agencies, and diplomatic missions. Attendees came together to share and discuss the growing evidence-base, as well as critical pathways to shift focus from enforcement-focused models of ATD, towards ATD that is centred on community-based protection and care for all children and their families. The event began with opening remarks by Her Excellency. Dr. Sarah Taylor, the Ambassador of the Embassy of Canada to Thailand. She called on everyone to consider the crisis in Ukraine, and the stark reminder it gives us all that refugees and people seeking asylum flee their countries by no fault of their own, and security risk must be carefully assessed, not assumed. Dr. Taylor affirmed that the detention of people seeking asylum must only be used as an absolute last resort, and the detention of children is never justified.

Her Excellency. Dr. Sarah Taylor, the Ambassador of the Embassy of Canada to Thailand

These important remarks were followed by Laddawan Tantivithayapitak, President of HOST International Foundation Thailand, who emphasised HOST International’s mission to make life better for people on the move in Thailand by fostering humanity, hope, and dignity for all. Tantivithayapitak reflected on the partnership between HOST International and the Department of Children and Youth (DCY), as well as other key stakeholders who have supported children and their families being released from immigration detention since 2018, through a community-based Case Management programme.

Laddawan Tantivithayapitak, President of HOST International Foundation Thailand

Yuhanee Jekha, Regional Programme Manager at HOST International, then presented the independent evaluation report of HOST’s community-based Case Management programme conducted in 2021. This report highlighted the programme’s successes, lessons learned, and recommendations for specific interventions to bring more humanity and dignity to the urban refugee experience in Thailand. For example, following release from detention many children and their families found it very difficult to navigate complex legal systems, to meet basic daily needs, to access and pay for health care, manage finances, and participate in education. To address these issues, community-based Case Management in urban areas has proven to work extremely well and has excellent potential to grow to scale. In Thailand, this approach is cost-effective, supports compliance with immigration requirements, and leads to improved well-being by providing holistic and tailored support. This approach also requires strong partnership, the ongoing involvement of local communities, and long-term investment to support strengthened migration governance outcomes in Thailand. For more information about this evaluation, please contact HOST International.

Yuhanee Jekha, Regional Programme Manager at HOST International

The event also featured a panel, which included Suthida Srimongkol, Director of Protection System Development Sub-Division at the Department of Children and Youth (DCY), Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and Pasatree Comwong, Senior Social worker at Save the Children Thailand. The panel discussion was moderated by Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Thailand. 

Srimongkol shared an overview of the child protection system being implemented at the sub-district level by DCY since 2017, and discussed the localisation of child protection such as the Sub-district Child Protection System (SD-CPS), the Child Maltreatment Surveillance Tool (CMST), and the Child Protection Information System (CPIS). She underlined that case management is key to both short-term and long-term protection of children, as an effective case manager plays a vital role for children and families who are rebuilding their lives in the community. DCY also works at the district and provincial levels to build the capacity of local authorities and equip them with the skills and tools needed to work with children. Srimongkol welcomed civil society to partner with DCY in these efforts to strengthen child protection mechanisms within local communities. 

Comwong emphasised the role of community in the protection of vulnerable children and indicated that it is critical to understand the community’s capacities and perform resource mapping. Through these mapping processes, the community is able to recognise the different roles they can play to protect vulnerable children. Further, these community and resource assessments need to be accessible and updated routinely. Boonridrerthaikul added that it is important to stay focused on the big picture, which is not just about non-detention, but about enabling access to legal status, health care, education, and meeting other important needs of children.

Suthida Srimongkol, Director of Protection System Development Sub-Division, Department of Children and Youth (DCY), Ministry of Social Development and Human Security; Pasatree Comwong, Senior Social Worker, Save the Children Thailand; Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, Child Protection Officer, UNICEF Thailand

Angkhana Neelaphaijit, President at Justice for Peace Foundation and former Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand also delivered key remarks. She clarified that while Thailand might regard itself as a transit country, many people cannot ever be repatriated or resettled elsewhere. Therefore, under current Thai policies many are forced to spend much of their lives in immigration detention, some for over a decade. This presents a moral challenge to Thailand’s commitment to human rights. Neelaphaijit shared key recommendations to the Thai government and Thai people in moving forward: 

  1. Ensure that all children receive proper care and protection without discrimination on any grounds, and with consideration of the best interests of the child. 
  2. Accelerate the finalisation of the regulation and procedures of the national screening mechanisms, so that refugees and people seeking asylum can work and be independent.
  3. Cultivate accurate information and inform public understanding about the root causes of migration, and the right and need for people to be able to seek international protection and a better life. 
  4. In cases of enforced disappearance, sexual abuse, and human trafficking, the government and relevant agencies must accelerate investigations and bring the perpetrators to justice, while also providing support and remedies to victims and survivors. 
  5. Laws must be changed to centre the experiences of survivors, including the Immigration Act, the Anti-trafficking In Persons Act.
Angkhana Neelaphaijit, President at Justice for Peace Foundation, former Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand

As IDC Southeast Asia Programme Manager and a long-time Thai advocate, I also had a chance to speak at this important event and share IDC’s newly published research analysis of the Promising Practices in ATD for children and their families. As someone who has been part of the ATD-MOU’s development from day 1, I have witnessed Thailand make significant progress since the ATD-MOU came into effect in 2019. Hundreds of children and their families have been released from immigration detention over the last three years. However, children continue to be subject to immigration detention in Thailand, as the ATD-MOU is only triggered once a child has been arrested and detained. Children may be released with their mothers, though mothers are required to pay bail at prohibitively high costs. Fathers are not typically considered for release under the ATD-MOU, which results in family separation and pressure on mothers who find themselves as single heads of household. Through IDC’s research analysis, we aim to support the Thai government and stakeholders by illustrating what rights-based ATD for children and their families looks like, alongside promising examples from different country contexts that may be of particular interest.

Chawaratt Chawarangkul, IDC Southeast Asia Programme Manager

Political will, commitment to the best interest of the child, and multi-stakeholder collaboration have been the key drivers of advocacy efforts among Thai civil society, government partners, UN agencies, the diplomat community, academics, and people whose lives are impacted by immigration detention. For me, the 3rd anniversary of the ATD-MOU is a vital milestone for all stakeholders to consider how to improve ATD policy and practices in Thailand to ensure that all children and their families affected by immigration detention can access community-based, rights-based, and gender-responsive ATD. With Thailand’s global leadership on ATD, I believe that one day immigration detention will no longer exist in my country, and people who migrate here will live with rights and dignity – which is IDC’s vision for the world.

IDC shares much gratitude to HOST International, the Embassy of Canada to Thailand, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), and our other local members and partners for your continued collaboration and commitment. 


Written by Chawaratt Chawarangkul IDC Southeast Asia Programme Manager & Photo Credits to the Embassy of Canada to Thailand