Myanmar beauty queen Han Lay was detained by Thai immigration officials at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Sept. 21 as she returned from a three-day trip to Vietnam. She had overstayed her Thai visa after staying there more than 18 months, following her public call at the Miss Grand International pageant in Thailand in March 2021 for the international community to help her country regain democracy. Han Lay, also known as Thaw Nanda Aung, remained in Thailand on a tourist visa, knowing she would likely face persecution back home, where she has been charged in absentia for “high treason.” Supporters said the junta that took power in Myanmar in February 2021 had canceled her passport and spread false accusations against her and other critics of the military regime. With help from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the Canadian embassy in Bangkok, Han Lay was granted political asylum in Canada. She spoke to Khin Maung Soe of RFA Burmese before departing from Bangkok airport.
RFA: How did you end up being permitted to travel on to Canada?
Han Lay: The UNHCR contacted me the other day at the hotel I was temporarily staying at and said they were trying to help me get out of the country. They said they had contacted Canada which I had requested as a priority and the Canadian government had started the process to accept me. And last evening, they said they had received the air tickets but not to disclose anything to anyone for my safety. But I don’t know how, but the news leaked out to the media. And they said they, along with International Organization for Migration officials, would bring all the travel documents and instructions to go through Thai immigration. My flight will be after midnight tonight.
RFA: What are your future plans in Canada?
Han Lay: 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. 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.
RFA: Your case was handled rather quickly. How did that happen?
Han Lay:: Thai Immigration officials had given me so much support because they understood that I was innocent and I had no problems with the Thai government. The ground staff also came to see me and comforted me not to be depressed. They had allowed me to stay in Thailand even though I had overstayed the visa. I am very grateful to the Thai government as well as those officials. And the UNHCR too. They helped me a lot, telling me what to do during that problematic period. I would also like to thank my fans and friends in Myanmar who were worried for me and then, those who are waiting in Canada to help me. I thank the Canadian government the most because if they had not speeded up the process I would still be stuck in the airport hotel now.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane.