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The boat people being interviewed in a police jail in January

Aid Groups Alarmed at Isolation of Rohingyas

Sunday, July 19, 2009
AID organisations are frustrated at being denied access to detained Rohingya boat people in Thailand, raising fears for their health after a young refugee died in custody.

The death of a teenage boy has focused attention on the plight of his 77 surviving companions. All males, aged as young as 14, they were arrested on a boat in January.

This was the first group of boat people to escape the notorious "push-backs" orchestrated by the Thai military, which saw hundreds of boat people die when forced out to sea in wooden vessels without motors.

The practice was abandoned after the consequences and inhumane nature of the practice were exposed by Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong.

The future of the detained Rohingya refugees, and hundreds of thousands of others who remain stateless and persecuted in northern Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia is likely to be raised this week when Asean foreign ministers meet on Phuket.

During April at a ministerial conference of the so-called Bali Process on Human Trafficking, Burma's national police chief, Brigadier General Khin Yi, refused to accept the Rohingya as Burmese citizens and denied any persecution.

But he did offer Burma's co-operation with international efforts to provide aid and development in northern Rakhine state, where many Rohingya come from.

Any proposal for a solution will come too late for 18-year-old Abdul Salam, who died in hospital in the Thai-Burma border town of Ranong on June 30.

Thai officials said he had been sick for some time and died from cardiac arrest.

Because the Thai authorities have refused access to aid organisations, the health of the surviving boat people in custody remains unclear.

"Lack of access and information about the detainees in Ranong have been my main frustration," an official at one aid organisation said.

"My research partner interviewed Rohingya detainees in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, but was unable to talk to those in Ranong."

Another aid organisation confirmed it had also been denied access, as have Phuketwan reporters.

Last month, 29 of the detainees claimed Bangladeshi citizenship and have since been transferred to Bangkok, where they were to undergo background checks.

Access has also been denied to that group.

''I have concerns about Bangladesh's procedures,'' the NGO official said.

''Hundreds of Bangladeshis have been detained for a long time in Malaysia and Bangladesh never pays for the costs of their repatriation.''

A proposal for a meeting of the countries most affected by the exodus of Rohingyas is likely to be considered at this week's Asean meeting.

"What have Asean and other affected countries done to address the plight of the Rohingya people since the crisis?" the aid official said.

"It is clear to me that they are putting in place deterrence mechanisms, rather than addressing the root causes."

If nothing is resolved, a new wave of fleeing Rohingya could pick up again in November - the next sailing season - as people smugglers entice them to seek a better life.

A version of this article appeared in the South China Morning Post of July 19.

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Comments have been disabled for this article.


Well done phuketwan for exposing human rights abuses in your region. Governments must not be allowed to get away with this type of behaviour.

Posted by david on July 19, 2009 18:56


When in comes to the Rohingya people Thailand is just, if not worse than Burma. Isn't it about time the UN stepped in and started putting sanctions against Thailand, they already have them for Burma for their lack of human rights.

Posted by Noddy on July 19, 2009 19:15


"the Thai authorities have refused access to aid organisations, the health of the surviving boat people in custody remains unclear" but JRS has been allowed to visit and conduct activities with the group many times. UNHCR was allowed to talk to them in Feb. Just that AID Organization is not allowed is not a big deal!!!

Editor: The 18-year-old died in June. No-one has mentioned any group having recent access, except lawyers and diplomats. This is not Guantanamo or the Russian Gulag. Yet these people are being detained, indefinitely. Surely, given Thailand's recent conversion to human rights, they should be able to choose who gets to visit them, and when?

Posted by Arakanese on July 21, 2009 14:08


Of course, this is not Guantanamo, that is why many stupid Farang dare to have questions to the Thai authorities on human rights. Anyone dare to protest what the US has done to prisoners there or ask for human rights for those prisoners? The US Immigration Bureau allows NGOs to conduct humanitarian activities in the detention, like the Thai Immigration does? No way, man. The Thai side has hosted 110000 refugees from Myanmar for decades. Therefore, stop barking about Thailand human rights!!!Dude!!

Editor:Faith in human rights in Thailand was cast adrift in December and January, with the Rohingya boat people. Now this group is being held indefinitely . . . just like Guantanamo. Just like the Gulag. There is no official public update on their condition. Thais also find this behavior despicable. Thailand's human rights are as open to question as those in the US and Russia. This is about rights, not race.

Posted by Arakanese on July 22, 2009 20:48

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