After being denied entry to Thailand, Myanmar beauty queen who criticized junta granted asylum in Canada

(L) Han Lay speaking at Miss Grand International 2021 Screenshot: Miss Grand International. (R) Photo: @hann_may/Instagram
(L) Han Lay speaking at Miss Grand International 2021 Screenshot: Miss Grand International. (R) Photo: @hann_may/Instagram

Han Lay, the 2020 winner of the Miss Grand Myanmar contest who used her platform to denounce the military junta, has been granted asylum in Canada and flew there yesterday from Thailand, where she had been stuck in legal limbo since last week after she was denied entry into the country.

The 23-year-old model, who was among the finalists in the Miss Grand International competition that took place in Thailand in March 2021, used her time in the pageant’s spotlight to talk about the brutality of the junta that had recently taken over her country and call for international assistance for her people. She praised the bravery of those protesting the regime but spoke of the “indescribable sadness and sorrow” she and everybody in Myanmar felt, breaking down in tears at one point. 

After the competition was over, Han Lay decided to stay in Thailand rather than return to Myanmar and risk retaliation by the junta. She reportedly resided there until last week, when she was denied reentry to the country after a trip to Vietnam.

Han Lay told Thai PBS that she was refused entry by immigration officials due to a problem with her passport and because her name was on Interpol’s red list after the junta informed the international law enforcement agency that her passport had gone missing in Vietnam.

Although she reportedly wished to stay in Thailand, Han Lay began seeking asylum status in other countries. Thai authorities told the Bangkok Post that she had been granted asylum in Canada and left the country on a flight to Toronto yesterday.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that Han Lay “… was the victim of a deliberate political act by the junta to make her stateless when she flew back from Vietnam to Thailand last week. All these polite, diplomatic mentions about a so-called “issue” with her passport cannot hide the fact her passport was fine to leave Thailand, and to enter and exit Vietnam, before she encountered a problem seeking to re-enter Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport.”

“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.”

“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,” he added.

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