Major Conferences on Palestine held in Istanbul, Turkey and Bangkok, Thailand.
First Conference on Palestine Ever Held in Thailand-Organizations Decide to Form Regional Coalition for Palestine
Hundreds of Palestinians refugees that lived for decades in refugee camps in Syria, fled the violence in Syria and have been living in Thailand for several years. They had lived in Syria as a part of the Palestinian refugee diaspora created when in 1948, after the creation of the State of Israel from the Palestine Mandate, Israeli militias burned Palestinian villages and forced over 800,000 Palestinians to flee their homes to neighboring countries in what is called the "Nakba or Catastrophe."
Rather than escaping the violence in Syria by attempting to travel through police checkpoints in Turkey and buying space on the flimsy boats that were ferrying people to Greece, many Palestinians applied for and received visas to Thailand. The Thai embassy was the last diplomatic mission in Syria to issue visas. Immediately after receiving visas, they bought air tickets from Damascus to Bangkok and flew to Thailand -- a cheaper and safer way of leaving the violence in Syria.
However, as the violence continued, 600 persons from Syria including 50 Palestinian families have been unable to go back. Now they have overstayed their tourist visas in Thailand.
Many are now in detention facilities in Bangkok as the Thai government has cracked down on thousands of people of all nationalities that have continued to stay in Thailand past their visa dates. In the case of Palestinians, they have nowhere to go as the refugee camps in Syria they call home are still very dangerous.
Similar to the Trump administration, Thai authorities are also detaining children and sending them to those facilities. Children are still locked inside Bangkok's Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Centre, with a number of children separated from their parents. Most recently, 20 Palestinian refugees were arrested by Thai police on December 3, 2018 after police came to their homes stating they had overstayed their visas.
While many Palestinians have been detained, other Palestinian children and adults have been protesting the lack of assistance from office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Unfortunately, Thailand is not a signatory to the UN's refugee convention so Thailand neither recognizes the status of refugees nor protects those who are, or who could be, refugees.
I learned of these Palestinians in Thai detention, the last week of November 2018, when I spoke at the first conference on Palestine ever held in Thailand. Unlike Indonesia and Malaysia where the predominate religion is Muslim, Thailand's population is 90 percent Buddhist and only 10 percent Muslim, the Muslim population mostly concentrated in the southern part of the country.
Religious and ethnic tensions have been a part of the history of Thailand underscoring the importance of the conference on Palestine to be held in Thailand. Conference organizers had lengthy negotiations with the Thai government in order to have the event. The Muslim Studies Center, Institute of Asian Studies of Chulalongkorn University, the oldest (it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018) and most prestigious university in Thailand, co-sponsored the conference with the Council for Humanitarian Network of Sheikhul Islam Office of Thailand, a network of 35 Muslim organizations.
Over 300 persons from Thailand and South East Asia attended the proceedings entitled "Palestine: Past, Present and Future." Scholars and academics from all the major universities in Thailand as well as international speakers from Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States participated in the two-day conference. I spoke on the role of the international human rights movement in documenting and publicizing what is happening to Palestinians because of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza and the apartheid treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
As an important outcome from the conference, the organizations represented at the conference decided to form a South East Asian coalition for Palestine to coordinate programs and projects to increase awareness in their respective countries of the difficult situation facing Palestinians as spelled out in their Bangkok Declaration
The coalition members from Malaysia and Indonesia recognized the plight of Palestinians in Thailand and planned to return to their home countries to lobby their governments for Palestinians to be allowed to move from Thailand to their countries with protection as refugees.