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Marine Police make an earlier arrest of boat people along the Andaman

More Boat People Arrested, Army Not Involved

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Today's South China Morning Post report, with agencies and staff reporter

THE LATEST batch of Rohingya boatpeople to arrive in Thailand have been handed over to police instead of the army, in a development praised by the United Nations' refugee body.

The decision to process the 78 boatpeople via civil authorities came as Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday invited the UNHCR to take part in a regional meeting on the issue of the Rohingya.

Mr Abhisit's announcement comes amid a storm of controversy that erupted on January 12 when a South China Morning Post investigation revealed that the Thai army had been towing Rohingya out to sea and abandoning them in unpowered vessels. Hundreds died as a result.

Thai NBT television showed pictures of the emaciated and exhausted men in the latest group being treated by doctors and holding registration papers.

Thai police were also shown feeding and caring for the men.

Kitty McKinsey, regional spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said it was seeking access to the new batch of Rohingya.

The men, who were found floating on Monday between Surin Island and Prayam Island, would be prosecuted for illegal immigration, Police Colonel Veerasilp Kwanseng said. He heads Ranong's port district station in southwest Thailand.

Colonel Veerasilp said he had decided to process them via the courts, although it was unclear if he had been instructed by higher authorities or if the shift was a broad change in policy. The men are to appear in court today.

''We are following up this report. These 78 are covered by our request for access to all Rohingya,'' said Ms McKinsey, referring to a request on January 20 by the UNHCR for Thai authorities to provide it with access to 126 Rohingya boatpeople it then believed were being held in Thailand.

''[The decision to hand the Rohingya to police] initially seems to be encouraging news.''

If the latest arrivals are convicted and are unable to pay a fine of 2,000 baht, they are likely to be held for seven days before being handed to immigration authorities for deportation.

Mr Abhisit earlier yesterday said he wanted the UNHCR to take part in four-way talks with Thailand, Bangladesh and India to address the problem of the annual Rohingya migration, in which thousands of boatpeople set out from Bangladesh every year, ending up in Thailand on their way to Malaysia or Indonesia.

Many, including boatloads expelled by the Thai army, have been shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean's Andaman and Nicobar islands.

''We must work out a solution acceptable to all parties but it must be stressed that we will not allow sustained illegal migration that may put our security at risk,'' Mr Abhisit said.

Ms McKinsey welcomed the invitation. But she said Thailand had still to issue a formal response to its January 20 access request.

''The only good thing to come out of all this is the Thai government's willingness to deal with this as a regional issue,'' she said.

Regarding the 126 boatpeople mentioned in the January 20 statement, she said ''frankly, we don't know where those people are''.

The day of the statement, the Post visited Koh Sai Daeng, where our investigations and the UNHCR's sources had suggested they were being held.

Our reporter found the island newly deserted. The army had said the 126 were no longer in Thailand.

The Thai government and the army have yet to acknowledge that Rohingya were maltreated in Thailand, with Mr Abhisit earlier issuing a blanket denial of abuse.

But the army has admitted training villagers to round up Rohingya who were ''gathered together'' at secluded locations before being ''escorted'' or ''pushed back'' to sea.

Although the army refused to say the boatpeople were ever held against their will, the Post has published a photograph showing them being held behind barbed wire.

Similarly, the army has denied abandoning the boatpeople in unpowered vessels, although multiple survivors and sources involved in the process have described exactly that.

Earlier Report
A BOATLOAD of 78 Rohingya has been apprehended off the Andaman coast.

But instead of being handed to the army, the group is now with police in Ranong, Phuketwan has learned.

It is believed that the policy of handing refugees to the army has been suspended in this case, a sign of a possible change in thinking on boat people.

The arrest was made yesterday by the Royal Thai Navy between Surin island and Prahyam island, off the coast of Ranong province.

The refugees are due to appear in court on Wednesday in Ranong. Phuketwan has sent a team to cover their appearance.

Is the change in treatment part of a policy switch, or a temporary phenomenon? We hope to find out.

Boat People in Thailand: Phuketwan Reports
Fresh Tourist Snapshots
The torment of the Rohingya boat people was brought to the world's attention by Phuketwan. Now we look forward to Thailand restoring its good reputation.
Boat People in Thailand: Phuketwan Reports


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