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More Boatpeople North of Phuket: Burma Must Be Made to Respond

Sunday, January 27, 2013
News Analysis

PHUKET: Another boat laden with Rohingya arrived north of Phuket about 1pm today, this time holding a cargo of 97 men and boys.

With hundreds of Rohingya being held north of Phuket and more on the way, Thai government officials and NGOs will be seeking an urgent solution to the exodus surge next week.

There are no easy answers. Already this month, at least 764 men, women and children have been apprehended in seven boats along the Andaman, beginning with the 73 held on Phuket on January 1.

More boats are expected in the coming days, weeks and months. Further south along the Thai-Malaysia border, 900 or more people freed from secret traffickers' transit camps are being held in detention.

The Thai government has said it is prepared to give the detainees six months' grace while attempting to find a complete solution.

With the ''sailing season'' for boatpeople still having two full months to run, many thousands more Rohingya could arrive in Thailand between now and April, when the onset of the monsoons makes the voyage more perilous.

Temporary detention centres now being improvised across the south in police and Immigration cells are not suitable for holding vast numbers of people for long periods.

Envoys from the US, Europe and Australia have become involved in briefings in Bangkok, seeking with the UNCHR, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs to find a principled answer.

What has to be asked, of course, is what the Burmese make of all this. The flight of the Rohingya onto boats and out of Burma must be wish-fulfillment for the racists of Rakhine state, who want their perceived Muslim enemies out of the country.

Somewhere, you would suspect, Burmese authorities are probably having a good belly laugh. And that's the alarming paradox.

There can be no real, lasting solution without Burma. Burma is the problem.

Imprisonment in cells across Thailand's south imposes an unfair penalty on a stateless people who clearly have a strong claim to refugee status.

Yet Thailand plainly cannot acknowledge that fact, for fear of opening the floodgates.

Four years ago, after the exposure of the reprehensible military ''pushbacks'' of Rohingya boats from Thailand, a group of Rohingya men and boys was held in detention at Ranong Immigration for several months.

During that time, the colonel in command assured Phuketwan more than once that the group were content and being well cared-for.

Then two teenagers died in custody.

And when the survivors were eventually transferred to the larger detention centre in Bangkok, some of them emerged from Ranong bent double and barely able to walk.

They had been deprived of exercise and sunlight, and kept in a space more confined even than on an overcrowded open boat.

The same danger of maltreatment exists if talks proceed for a long period and the numbers of arriving Rohingya continue to pack every available detention space.

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As sad as their reported treatment has been I hope word gets back to Burma and others are deterred from attempting this perilous journey.

Posted by Ty on January 28, 2013 03:28


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