Myanmar beauty queen in Thai airport limbo, fears arrest back home

BANGKOK - A beauty queen who spoke out against Myanmar's junta was stranded at Thailand's international airport for a third day on Friday, as activists and her employer urged authorities not to send her back to her homeland.

Ms Han Lay, who gained international attention in 2021 with her pageant speech on the army's suppression of protests in her native Myanmar, has been denied entry by Thai authorities despite having taken refuge in Thailand for the past year. The 23-year-old model, whose real name is Thaw Nandar Aung, was stopped at Bangkok's Suvarnhabhumi airport on Wednesday, when returning from a brief visit to Vietnam. The immigration bureau said she was using invalid travel documents.

Ms Han Lay told Reuters she was stopped by immigration and spent one night in a detention room but was "okay now". "I am just waiting on what will happen next," she said in a phone call, declining to reveal where she is now.

The events management team that works with her said they hoped she could re-enter Thailand. "The only thing we want is her not to return to Myanmar because if she returns, we don't know what will happen to her," said a representative, who declined to be identified.

Asked about Ms Han Lay's case on Friday, Thai foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said authorities "did not make an arrest and have no plans to send her anywhere at this stage".

Thailand is often caught up in tugs of war between countries seeking the return of citizens and activists who say those individuals would be persecuted if sent home. These include an Australia-based soccer player held in Thailand in 2018 at the request of Bahrain for criticising its monarchy, and an 18-year-old Saudi woman who was stranded at Bangkok's airport after fleeing her family.

A Myanmar junta spokesman could not be reached for comment on Ms Han Lay's case.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2022, with the headline Myanmar beauty queen in Thai airport limbo, fears arrest back home. Subscribe