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Rohingya boatpeople were quickly transferred to police trucks yesterday

Boatpeople Land North of Phuket With BBC, Aljazeera Filming

Thursday, January 17, 2013
PHUKET: A group of 88 Rohingya boatpeople were apprehended and brought to shore north of Phuket yesterday under the gaze of the international media, the BBC and Aljazeera.

The boatpeople, including eight children and 10 women, will be assessed as Thailand reviews its policy towards hundreds of Rohingya still arriving by sea or recently ''rescued'' from people traffickers' secret camps.

One pregnant woman and her husband were sent to a small local hospital after the boat was spotted by local villagers off Pra Thong Island, near the large fishing township of Kuraburi in Phang Nga province.

The others in the boat were transferred to Kuraburi Police Station where the BBC, Aljazeera and Phuketwan photographed and interviewed them.

What emerged was a saga of enduring persecution by the Burmese Army. These people are all neighbors from the village of Debeng, near the town of Sittwe, where so-called ''community violence'' has targetted the oppressed and stateless Muslim minority.

Burmese soldiers and local police held the Rohingya of Debeng powerless at gunpoint while their Buddhist neighbors torched their homes, the newly-arrived boatpeople said today.

Life in the weeks that followed under the gun included regular sexual abuse by soldiers, women among the group said.

One man, Mamuta, 40, said that after months of living in squalid camps near the ruins of their homes, the neighbors banded together, with each contributing what they could afford towards passages on a traffickers' boat.

After 12 days at sea, the boat was apprehended by island fishermen about 10am yesterday and by 3pm the families were talking to the international media in Thailand.

The deputy Superintendent of Kuraburi Station, Colonel Laksanawong Rampansuwan, said that the Internal Security Operations Command, which oversees Thailand's border security, has been told of the arrest of the boatpeople.

It was the second boat apprehended off Kuraburi already this year, he said.

Other boats have been sighted or come ashore all along the Andaman coast, including a group of 73 men, women and children whose boat ran out of fuel near Phuket on January 1.

The arrival of the latest boat comes with final arrangements being made for possible access by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, to hundreds of people believed to be Rohingya who were being held in secret camps along the Thai-Malaysia border.

Raids freed more than 850 from three camps last week. Those people are now being held in detention in refuge centres, Immigration offices and police cells throughout the Thai border province of Songkhla.

Since June, ethnic cleansing inside Burma has triggered a huge increase in the numbers of Rohingya fleeing their homeland by sea. The undercover system used to transit them through Thailand, usually with officials taking commission, appears to have collapsed for now.

The boatpeople who arrived yesterday said five other boats from near Sittwe had also put to sea around the time they departed.

However Chris Lewa, director of the activist group Arakan Project, said yesterday that the flow of boats from further north in Burma had halted a few days ago with uncertainty mounting about the escape route through Thailand.

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Phuketwan has done a sterling effort in keeping this documented and well reported. Now that BBC and AJ are on the case, the international spotlight just got turned on to MAX. I hope the UN, UNHCR and ASEAN now start really putting pressure on the root of the problem - Burma. I had high hopes of Aun San Su Kyi sorting this mess out. I have been disappointed so far.

Posted by Mr Man on January 17, 2013 06:33

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Yes,
Su Kyi is strangely silent on this. Very disappointing.

Posted by Peter on January 17, 2013 13:03

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Would not these people be free to move in the Asean area after 2017 ? then it should be easier for governments to let them already stay in safe places. Or I miss something ?

Posted by migrant too on January 17, 2013 17:05

Editor Comment:

They are in the ''Asean area,'' migrant too. You missed the word ''stateless.''

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I would like to say a huge THANK-YOU to Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison for their persistant and accurate coverage regarding the Rohingya boatpeople over YEARS now! You haven't stopped covering, even when noone else cared, thank goodness some people are starting to care now at last.

Posted by Jamila Hanan on January 17, 2013 20:51

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Yes Editor, they are stateless but they have a " country of origin ", Burma, that will be in 2015 in the area of the Asean mobility. I hope that they will be granted a status in this area as has been done for some Thai minorities in Thailand

Posted by migrant too on January 17, 2013 23:48

Editor Comment:

Citizenship springs from recogniition by your own country's government that you have rights, migrant too. If Burma - which also recognises some minorities - chooses to deprive the Rohingya of citizenship, how will the Asean Economic Community change anything in 2016? Stateless in Burma neans stateless in Asean. Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are already members of Asean. Shamefully, Asean has failed to act so far. Singapore, the most prosperous member, is also the most selfish. Asean, like Singapore, is only interested in the money. It doesn't have a heart.

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Yes Editor, stateless in a mobility area is stateless, but good will can always overcome legal barriers : for instance since Romania joined the EU in 2007 , Roms ( Gypsies ) without a citizenship have been allowed to stay in France 3 months and their stay can be extended if they have a job ( from a limited list ). You are right it is a matter of heart. But also a matter of good will from all sides. I leave in a hevea forest, my next neighbors are a muslim family from Burma. We are happy they are there, they have children too and we feel safer with them 200 m away from our isolated house. Usually they pray at 5 am but I have never heard their prayers, until this night that was a real discomfort, may be they had guests so the prayer was amplified. But in the village prayers are not a problem although you would see from their faces that the people have very diverse origins. Good will has built harmony.( I am sensitive to noise from prayers, having leaved 2 years in the past in a house about 10 metres from the temple loudspeakers - a Buddhist village ) . Thank you very much for your excellent reports on the Rohingya.

Posted by migrant too on January 18, 2013 08:44

Editor Comment:

Goodwill in this part of the world? It can be bought, migrant too, like people, and every other material thing. As a slave, a Rohingya has value. As a goodwill gesture, a Rohingya is worthless. Nothing here counts unless it has a monetary value.

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I saw a small boat carrying 103 men and boys set off from Neill Island, Andamans on 12.1.13 escorted by the Indian coastguard. I was told they had been forced onto the boat at gunpoint by the Burmese Government because they were Muslim. The Indian coastguard would hand them on to the Malaysian coastguard as they were trying to reach Malaysia.

Posted by Eve Bartlett on January 20, 2013 11:49


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