Myanmar beauty queen who spoke against junta granted asylum in Canada

Thaw Nandar Aung, a model from Myanmar speaks to a reporter in Bangkok, Thailand (The Associated Press)
Thaw Nandar Aung, a model from Myanmar speaks to a reporter in Bangkok, Thailand (The Associated Press)

A Myanmar-based fashion model facing the risk of arrest from the country’s junta administration if forced to go back to Yangon from exile has now been granted asylum in Canada, officials said on Wednesday.

Malaysian model Thaw Nandar Aung, also known as Han Lay, who fiercely criticised the military administration of the country, left for Canada on a flight from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport on Wednesday morning, deputy commissioner of Thailand’s immigration bureau Archayon Kraithong said.

He did not reveal the aircraft’s destination, citing authorisation restrictions.

Confirming her exit from Myanmar and calling Canada a safe haven, she said: “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,” Han Lay said.

She added: “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.”

According to the Burmese Canadian Action Network, the Myanmar national reached Toronto safely.

She’s now waiting for a [connecting] flight to Charlottetown in eastern Canada, where she plans to settle and continue her activism against the coup that ousted Myanmar’s civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the collective’s Tin Maung Htoo said, reported AFP.

Ms Han Lay said she has been granted political asylum with the help of the UN human rights commission and the Canadian embassy in Thailand.

The beauty icon has continued her activism against the military coup by the senior army officials who ousted Myanmar’s civilian administration headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

She was stranded at the Bangkok airport since last week after she arrived there on 21 September from a short trip to Vietnam but was held by Thai authorities who denied her entry into the country, where she had been living.

However, to continue her stay in Thailand, Han Lay needed to leave and enter again but was unable to.

A Thai foreign ministry spokesperson said she had been denied entry into Thailand “due to an issue with her travel document.”

Officials at the Canadian embassy have not issued a comment on the matter.

Han Lay denounced Myanmar’s military rulers last year from the stage of Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Bangkok, following which she was accused of sedition.

She was charged in September in absentia.

Han Lay had accused the military heads of selfishness and abusing their power for using lethal force to crush peaceful protests, and urged for international help for Myanmar.

According to Human Right Watch, the Junta government made Han Lay “the victim of a deliberate political act… to make her stateless when she flew back from Vietnam to Thailand”, a tactic commonly used against other critics of the Junta state heads.

“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,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director said in an emailed statement.

"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.”