A fashion model from Myanmar who feared being arrested by the country’s military government if she was forced back home from exile has flown to Canada, which she says has granted her asylum.
Thaw Nandar Aung, also known as Han Lay, left on a flight from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport early Wednesday morning, according to Archayon Kraithong, a deputy commissioner of Thailand’s Immigration Bureau. He said he was not authorized to reveal her destination.
Thaw Nandar Aung told Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-government funded broadcaster, on Tuesday that she was headed to Canada, after having been been granted political asylum there with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Canadian Embassy in Thailand.
Denied entry in Thailand
“Everything happened so fast, and I only have a few pieces of clothing. So I will have to go along with what they have planned for me,” she said.
“I have spoken out for Myanmar wherever I go. I have talked to the media about my country while I was staying in Thailand. Since Canada is a safe place for me, I will have more opportunities to speak out on the issue. And as you know, there is a large Myanmar community in Canada, so I’m sure I’ll be able to carry on the struggle for Myanmar with their help.”
A phone call to the Canadian Embassy seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Thaw Nandar Aung had been stuck at Bangkok’s airport after Thai authorities denied her entry when she arrived Sept. 21, following a short trip to Vietnam. She had been living in Thailand but needed to leave and enter again in order to extend her stay.
Model accused military of selfishness, power abuse
While at the airport she met United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representatives in an effort to avoid being sent back to Myanmar. People denied entry to Thailand are usually deported to their last point of departure, but the UN agency advised her she would be arrested in Vietnam and then repatriated to Myanmar. A Thai foreign ministry spokesperson said she had been denied entry into Thailand “due to an issue with her travel document.”
Thaw Nandar Aung denounced her country’s military rulers last year from the stage of the Miss Grand International beauty pageant held in Bangkok. She accused the military of selfishness and abusing power for using lethal force to crush peaceful protests, and she also appealed for international help for her country.
Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and has cracked down heavily on widespread opposition to its rule. Critics, including actors and other celebrities, have been arrested on charges that carry penalties ranging from three years’ imprisonment to death.
UN experts call Myanmar violence a civil war
In July, authorities executed four activists who were accused of involvement with terrorist activities, and UN experts have described the country’s violence as a civil war.
Thaw Nandar Aung said she was charged in absentia in September 2021 with sedition for speaking out against the military takeover at the pageant and online. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar’s military government of revoking or otherwise interfering with Thaw Nandar Aung’s passport, making her “the victim of a deliberate political act by the junta to make her stateless when she flew back from Vietnam to Thailand.” It said the tactic was used against other critics as well.
“There is no doubt that what transpired was a trap to try to force Han Lay to return to Myanmar, where she would have faced immediate arrest, likely abuse in detention and imprisonment,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director said in an emailed statement. “Fortunately, she got good advice to stay put at the airport and wait for the kind of protection she needed. This was a victory for rights and refugee protection.”