Myanmar beauty queen who criticized junta says she’s safe in hands of UN officials

By Kocha Olarn and Heather Chen, CNN

A beauty queen from Myanmar, who took refuge in Thailand after criticizing her home country’s ruling military junta, has told CNN she is now “safe” in the hands of United Nations’ officials after facing threats of deportation.

Han Lay had faced being sent back to Myanmar after Thai officials stopped her at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Wednesday due to a problem with her passport.

She has been in limbo since then, but told CNN on Friday she was now being looked after by officials from the UN’s refugee agency at the airport and is seeking political asylum in Canada.

“I’m safe with UNHCR now. They are trying their best for me. But I can’t say anything else for now … until the process with UNHCR and Thai immigration officials is done,” she said.

Han Lay, who was stopped at the airport after returning from a trip to Vietnam, added that she loved being in Thailand and had wanted to remain in the country.

“It is like my second home already,” she said.

Police Maj. Gen. Archayon Kraithong, deputy chief of Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, told CNN Han Lay had been stopped due to a problem with her passport and that she could not be let in to Thailand “due to immigration law”. He declined to give full details, but said she had not been arrested.

Han Lay, 23, captured international attention with an emotional pageant speech during the finals of the Miss Grand International Myanmar competition in 2020.

Wearing a traditional Burmese gown, she held up a banner with the words, “Pray for Myanmar” to raise global awareness of human rights atrocities being carried out by junta officials.

She said since her pageant performance she has received “death threats.”

Deteriorating situation

The situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate following the 2021 military coup.

Millions continue to resist the ruling junta led by Min Aung Hlaing, which has killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters and locked up the country’s democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But allegations of human rights violations remain rife and rampant. State executions have returned and conflict across the country continues to rage.

“Thailand must not return Myanmar model and activist Han Lay to her country where she is well-known for using her platform to speak out against the 2021 coup,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Friday.

“These are the real risks faced by anyone who highlights, exposes and documents the appalling human rights abuses since the coup,” the group said.

“Han Lay must be allowed to settle somewhere safe and Myanmar is not safe for her.”

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