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Sailor rings the bell at Third Navy Regional HQ, Cape Panwa

Andaman Island Sites Readied for Boat People

Monday, March 31, 2008
THE THAI NAVY has confirmed that several islands have already been explored in readiness for building a detention centre for Burmese Muslim boat people.

The refugees, known as Rohingya, have been coming from their home state in northwest Burma to the Andaman coast in such large numbers that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej views the problem as a crisis of national security.

Phuketwan has been told that if the island detention centre is built, those who are held there will be fed just one meal a day and treated harshly to deter others from entering Thailand.

While the plan is still being debated at the highest levels of the national government, the Prime Minister is known to be in favor of the concept and wants to take a hard line.

Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niampradit said that an alarming rate of Rohingya have been sneaking into Thailand.

"The graph is rising and it is worrying and we have to try to solve the problem," he said.

The islands that the Navy has examined in preparation for the go-ahead are all off Ranong and Phang Nga.

Details of the numbers of people involved and the nature of their sea journey continue to emerge.

As many as 1000 Rohingya have been detained, the latest boatload of 80 landing on Koh Kor Khao, near the Phang Nga village of Nam Khem, just last week.

The Thai Navy is concerned because, contrary to what Phuketwan was told earlier, the arrested Rohingya have so far been all men, aged 16 to 30.

Today we learned that human traffickers are said to be involved, carrying the men south from their home state of Rakhine in a large boat. The men are then transferred to smaller, less seaworthy boats.

People smugglers throughout Asia are known as ''snakeheads'' because of their disregard for the safety of the people they provide with often-unseaworthy transport.

If the influx is not dealt with harshly, Thai authorities fear thousands more Rohingya will follow in search of lowly-paid laboring jobs along the Andaman Coast.

Neighboring Bangladesh has previously accepted many of the Rohingya, who have been driven from Burma by lack of food and harsh treatment.

Others hoped to find a new home in Malaysia, a predominatly Muslim country.

But Malaysia has taken a tough stance, so many Rohingya have now turned to Thailand, where the treatment of illegal foreign workers has been more easy-going until now.

Illegally and legally, many Buddhist Burmese have come to work in Thailand for years, because the tourism construction industry has required large numbers of workers.

Some unscrupulous Thai employers encourage illegal laborers to come because they can be paid lower wages and are willing to put up with poorer living and working conditions.

But the influx of Muslims is seen as being different because of the existing separatist insurgency that is bringing death and destruction to Thailand's southernmost provinces.

PM Samak fears that if nothing is done, the Rohingya may keep coming in greater numbers.

While Buddhists and Muslims have lived in peace for a long time along the Andaman Coast, a large influx and greater competition for work could cause problems.

On the other hand, if a harsh island detention program raises the concern of human rights activists, other Muslims may grow angry in reaction.

Related Reports:

Burmese Detention Island Cause for Concern

'Deathship' Burmese Muslims Forced Back to Border

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Saturday May 26, 2018
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