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No outboards on Rohingya vessels, powered by hopes and dreams

Boat People Sailing with Phuket High Season

Saturday, November 27, 2010
ROHINGYA boat people from Burma or Bangladesh may try to reach Thailand in smaller boats this sailing season, according to the senior Thai Army officer who oversees the Andaman coast.

Colonel Manat Kongpan, Chief of Internal Security Operational Command 4, based in the province of Ranong, told Phuketwan yesterday that he has been led to believe the Rohingya, who do not have citizenship in their Burma homeland, may try to sail south in smaller vessels containing eight or 10 people.

In past sailing seasons - the season corresponds to Phuket's November to April tourism high season - hundreds of the Muslim Rohingya have attempted to sail south to start new lives in Thailand or Malaysia.

However, only a single-figure number of reports of encounters with Rohingya boats came last sailing season. A spokesman for the Royal Thai Navy strongly denied that Navy vessels had encountered a Rohingya boat within Thai territorial waters, off Phuket.

Rohingya with money had been catching AirAsia flights instead, using false documents, Phuketwan was told last sailing season. This applied especially to women attempting to join Rohingya men already in Malaysia from Bangladesh.

Yesterday Colonel Manat admitted that there had been encounters with Rohingya vessels in international waters last sailing season. He said that in each case, the occupants of the vessels had been given supplies and water and encouraged to sail on to ''a Muslim country.'' He did not name the country.

At least one boatload of Rohingya landed in Malaysia last sailing season and its occupants were reported to have been apprehended and taken into detention. Occupants reported encountering a Thai military vessel and being urged to sail on.

In the 2007-2008 sailing season, almost 5000 Rohingya were apprehended in Thai waters or on the Andaman coast.

A policy change led to the notorious ''pushbacks'' of the 2008-2009 sailing season. Hundreds of Rohingya are believed to have died after being placed on vessels and set adrift in international waters off Thailand.

After being rescued in Indonesia and India, survivors reported what had happened to them.

Colonel Manat told Phuketwan yesterday that he believes Rohingya will continue to sail south because of ''economic and political problems'' in northern Burma and across the border in Bangladesh, where many have fled.

Boatloads of Rohingya have come ashore from time to time along the Andaman coast. Locals are usually quick to inform police. It is believed that at least one boatload came ashore on Phuket several years ago, but the occupants were thought to be Burmese.

Most of the Rohingya boats have in the past sailed south close to the coast, and without maps.They usually only come ashore once their meagre provisions and water run out, without being certain whether they are off Thailand or off Malaysia.

However, once news of the ''pushbacks'' reached the Rohingya in Burma and Bangladesh, boats are believed to have sailed further out into international waters.

Two young Rohingya men died while in the custody of Thai Immigration in Ranong last year. The Burmese military also has a reputation for treating captured Rohingya brutally.
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What's the status of the 45-50 Rohingya who were still in custody in Bangkok as late as March of this year? Don't recall seeing any updates about this...thx.

Posted by L on November 27, 2010 15:46


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