BANGKOK– A Myanmar fashion model who feared arrest by the country’s military government if forced to return home from exile has made it to Canada, where she says she has been granted asylum.
Thaw Nandar Aung, also known as Han Lay, departed on a flight from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport early Wednesday morning, according to Archayon Kraithong, deputy commissioner of the Thai Immigration Bureau.
Thaw Nandar Aung wrote on Facebook that he had arrived in Canada and thanked his fans for their support.
“I will do my best to help my beloved Myanmar and the people of Myanmar as much as I can,” he wrote in the post seen on Thursday.
Thaw Nandar Aung had told Radio Free Asia, a US government-funded broadcaster, on Tuesday that he was headed to Canada, after being granted political asylum there with the assistance of the refugee agency. of the UN and the Embassy of Canada in Thailand.
“Everything almost happened, and I only have a few pieces of clothing. So I will have to accept what they have planned for me,” she said.
“I have spoken for Myanmar wherever I go. I spoke to the media about my country while I was in Thailand. Since Canada is a safe place for me, I will have more opportunities to talk about it. And as you know, there is a large Myanmar community in Canada, so I am sure that I will be able to continue the fight for Myanmar with your help.”
A phone call to the Canadian embassy seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Thaw Nandar Aung had been trapped at Bangkok airport after being denied entry by Thai authorities when she arrived on 21 September from a short trip to Vietnam. She has been living in Thailand but she needed to get out and back in to extend her stay.
While at the airport, she met with representatives of the UN refugee agency in an effort to prevent her from being sent back to Myanmar. People who are denied entry to Thailand are usually deported to her last point of departure, but the UN agency informed her that she would be arrested in Vietnam and then repatriated to Myanmar. A Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said she had been denied entry to Thailand “because of a problem with her travel document.”
Thaw Nandar Aung denounced his country’s military rulers last year from the stage of the Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Bangkok. He accused them of selfishness and abuse of power for using deadly force to crush peaceful protests, and called for international aid for his country.
Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and has cracked down on widespread opposition to her rule. Critics, including actors and other celebrities, have been arrested on charges that carry sentences ranging from three years in prison to death.
In July, authorities executed four activists accused of involvement in terrorist activities, with UN experts describing the country’s violence as a civil war.
Thaw Nandar Aung said she was charged in absentia in September last year with sedition for speaking out against the military takeover in the contest and online. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar’s military government of revoking or interfering with Thaw Nandar Aung’s passport, making her “the victim of a deliberate political act by the junta to render her stateless when she flew from Vietnam to Thailand.” ”. He said the tactic was also used against other critics.
“There is no doubt that what happened was a setup to try to force Han Lay to return to Myanmar, where he would have faced immediate arrest, likely abuse during detention and imprisonment,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director at a statement. statement sent by email. “Fortunately, he was given good advice to stay at the airport and wait for the kind of protection he needed. This was a victory for refugee rights and protection.”