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We don't know whether this young Rohingya, photographed in custody in Ranong in January 2009, is alive or dead

Boatpeople Off Phuket Face Cat and Mouse with Navy in Pursuit

Monday, November 7, 2011

THREE boatloads of Rohingya have been intercepted by the Thai Navy in international waters in the past few days, given food and fuel and ''helped on'' to unknown destinations outside Thailand, Phuketwan was told by a usually reliable source on Monday evening.

Original Report

PHUKET: At least two boatloads of Rohingya are believed to be off the coast near Phuket today, with Thai Navy patrol vessels looking to ''help on'' the would-be refugees in a game of cat and mouse.

The ricketty Rohingya vessels, with more than 70 men and boys on board each, departed from Bangladesh on October 24 and October 25, sources say, probably aiming to reach Malaysia.

Contacts in Thailand have today confirmed the presence of one vessel close to the Andaman coast, not far off Phang Nga or Phuket, with the second vessel reported to be further out to sea.

A sighting yesterday put the second vessel off Koh Ka, near the better-known Surin Island, a popular destination for holidaymaking divers from Europe and Australia.

One boatload of would-be refugees landed on the vacation island of Phuket earlier this year, looking for food and water after a tortuous voyage south for sanctuary from the constant persecution experienced by the Muslim Rohingya.

Indications from Bangladesh and northern Burma are that many more boats are likely to put to sea this sailing season, between November and April, corresponding with Phuket's tourism high season.

The Royal Thai Navy, which patrols the Andaman coast from bases on Phuket and in Phang Nga, is currently stretched by the need to provide floods assistance and aid to Bangkok and surrounding regions.

Thailand's newly-elected government, led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, is also stressed by the floods and has yet to enunciate its policy on the oppressed and stateless Rohingya.

If Thai Navy patrols intercept boatpeople at sea, they usually ''help on'' the vessel with fuel, food and medical aid. However, if the boats reach Thailand, the occupants are treated worse than all other illegal arrivals, often incarcerated for long periods, then simply vanishing.

Informed sources say that the number of boatpeople is likely to soar again this sailing season, possibly reaching levels not approached since 2007-2008 when almost 5000 men and boys were apprehended in Thailand in a single sailing season.

That large number of unwanted arrivals by sea led to the secret adoption in the next sailing season of the inhumane ''push-back'' policy. The Thai Army and paramilitary volunteers towed boatpeople out to sea on large vessels and cut them adrift with no power and little food.

Phuketwan journalists, working with the South China Morining Post newspaper in Hong Kong, exposed the covert ''push back'' policy in January 2009, severely embarrassing the then newly-appointed Democrat government.

Hundreds of men and boys died at sea, said survivors who reached India's Andaman and Nicobar islands and Indonesia.

A renewed wave of unwanted Rohingya arrivals would test Thailand's tolerance under a new government. While some refugees are treated in accordance with United Nations human rights requirements, the boatpeople do not have citizenship in Burma, and are consequently treated poorly by every nation in Asean, and no better by India.

Information about Rohingya is seldom conveyed through official sources and every effort is made to avoid the media or non-government aid organisations scrutinising their treatment.

At least two teenagers died in 2009 while in prolonged detention in the custody of Immigration officials in the Thailand-Burma border port of Ranong. Rumors persist of more deaths among the group that landed on Phuket in January and was was kept in primitive cells on Phuket and in Phang Nga.

Some of those apprehended were aged 16 or younger, but the boys were imprisoned with the men.

That group, along with other boatloads that landed south of Phuket last sailing season, was last seen being loaded into local boats at Ranong. Their destination was unknown.

Whether the signs of positive change in Burma since the national elections earlier this year also include a different approach to the Rohingya has yet to become clear.

However, even the use of the word ''Rohingya'' is avoided by officials these days in all Asean countries, an indication that a solution to the persecution of these stateless people is more remote than ever.

Downtrodden in Burma and Bangladesh or forced to seek a new, more liberated life in epic voyages, the Rohingya seem certain for the foreseeable future to remain probably the most persecuted ethnic group in the world.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


The Thai Army and Navy is always working hard to help and assist people in need, here they are doing what they have orders to do .. orders that derive from the policy of Thailand on how to treat these people.
Put the politicians that make the policies under pressure then things may change over time.

Posted by Bjarne on November 7, 2011 10:08

Editor Comment:

Both military arms do indeed perform aid and assistance roles at times, often valuable work, Bjarne. But there are exceptions. No full explanation has ever been given as to who was responsible for the inhumane and probably criminal ''pushbacks,'' just as there has been no culpability for several notable massacres of innocent citizens in the South. ''Under orders'' is generally no excuse.


Can't think of any outcome for these people that would be anything but bleak if they come to Thailand. Burmese migrant workers already in the country are facing undue hardship, too, as a result of the flooding. See

Very sad to think of this all happening within a stone's throw of all the five-star resorts and posh villas of Phuket. What to do?!

Posted by Lana on November 7, 2011 10:38


Something is happening for Rohyingas in Phuket. I meet some that have official Rohyinga Thai ID cards. There is some kind of processing going on but what are the terms of eligibility ? Which gov'n agency has responsibility & accountability for processing, resettlement or assimilation as refugees ? Do they want to become Thai permanantly or seek their own homeland autonomy in Burma / Bangladesh ?

Posted by AJ on November 7, 2011 12:12

Editor Comment:

A few individual Rohingya have won Thai citizenship but usually they have been here for more than 10 years, married Thais and raised families. They are exceptions and not representative of the latest waves of boatpeople. Conditions are so bad in Burma and Bangladesh that the boatpeople are prepared to accept whatever fate delivers at sea.


Conditions are so bad in Burma and Bangladesh that the boatpeople are prepared to accept whatever fate delivers at sea.

I have been in Burma several times this year and can categorically deny this claim is true. Life there for common people is better than in many parts of Issan and the deep south. The exception is the border areas near china, but there are no rohinga there.

I also take exception to the claim these boat people are refugees. They are not. the fact they are exclusively male shows they are economic migrants seeking work.If they were refugees where are their wives and children? and why dont they stop in neighboring bangladesh, or india, or even go another two days south to Malaysia to be in other muslim countries instead of coming exclusively to buddhist Thailand?

And why is it that only Thailand has to be humane to anyone who can make it to its shores, as if it has no souvereignty over its own land? Does anyone have any idea how many people would flood Thailand if it followed the "humane" advice on this editorial? and then how humane would the conditions be for them and the rest of the people here?

Posted by laos on November 7, 2011 13:11

Editor Comment:

These people are, as the article says, not refugees but would-be refugees. Whatever their status, Thailand's treatment of them remains opaque, totally non-transparent, and therefore questionable. Most people who know Burma would never suggest that the Rohingya are treated the same way Burmese are treated. They don't have citizenship, for a start and require permission to move from one town to another, and to marry. Have you been to Arakan or across the border to the Bangladesh refugee camps? Unless you have, you can't really comment on the treatment of Rohingya in either country. As the article notes, all countries in the region display an unconscionable lack of concern for the Rohingya, but only Thailand has been caught pushing them back out to sea. The article does not advocate an open-door policy or offer any solution - that's up to the region's politicians.


Editor Comment:

These people are, as the article says, not refugees but would-be refugees.

Why are you criticizing my comment? It is not the duty of an editor to discourage the free exchange of opinion by reprimanding those with other points of view.

Anyway, there is no difference between refugees and would be refugees as the Rohingya are neither; they are economic migrants. Most people who know Burma would never suggest that the Rohingya are Burmese. That the Rohingya are not Burmese citizens is one of the few things all Burmese seem to agree on.

Bangladesh, who also does not grant Rohingya citizenship, deliberately uses the Rohingya as a destabilization tool against Burma in Arakan, as a matter of state policy. If you really want to see refugee camps then go to India on the border with the Chittigong Hill tracts of Bangladesh where you will see Buddhist and Christian Bangladeshi survivors of the Muslim genocide of non Muslims there. The press almost never comments on this but always opines about the Rohingya.

Thailand does have a policy on refugees: it does not take them. That is the policy and it is to be commended for taking this stand. The need for secrecy arises only because of Western condemnation and Thailand's fears for its diplomatic relations with the EU and US. Thailand is smart enough to know that nations that have bowed demands for liberal refugee policies, like Australia, have only found themselves later condemned for having refugee policies and they have become magnets for aliens from all over the world.

In the past, Rohingya aliens have been infiltrated by Bangladeshi NSI agents and terrorists on the ground as far as East Timor. Who is to say who is it in those boats? Thailand is right to protect its borders. Having bowed to Western pressure has already cost Thailand the three southern provinces as a fait accompli.If you add up the Lao, Burmese and other aliens in the country already the percentage of the non citizen population is alarming.

The Thai Navy is all that stands between us and the millions of unemployed that can spill into the country from Bangledesh and elsewhere in a heartbeat. The navy has an impossible job and needs to do it in secrecy because of the selective application of morality applied to it by Western critics. The good news is that so far Thailand has chosen to ignore the hypocritical howling of those Western critics and put the nation first.

Posted by laos on November 7, 2011 14:59

Editor Comment:

Good journalists defend the accuracy of what they write. We don't reject opinion, but we do reject misinformation. Get your facts straight, and we won't respond. The difference between a refugee and a would-be refugee is obvious to most: one has achieved what the other wants. If you can't spot that difference, then everything you ''opine'' will be judged as less than logical . Thailand has been through the phase where it suspected Rohingyas of being terrorists. At one stage, Dr Porntip looked for gunpowder and explosives in the ricketty boats. You must have missed that. You also must have missed the byline at the start of the article. It's written by a Thai, and a westerner. We can both tell the difference between defending borders, and brutality. Can't you? Thailand remains the only country in the region to be caught pushing would-be refugees back out to sea.


We thai people dont want to have Rohingya in our country, we have big problems in Bangkok now with flooding!
how can you Editor as a Falang and living here write bad things about our goverment/military, Editor if you dont like how we do things in Thailand, please go back home were you come from!

We thai people are strong togather, we dont need falang come and show us how to do thing

Posted by Aungsumalee on November 7, 2011 21:05

Editor Comment:

Aungsumalee, Are you suggesting that Thais who disagree with your viewpoint on Thailand's foreign policy should also leave Thailand? When were you elected to speak for all Thais? (There's no need to answer that question.)


I agree with "Laos" may be phuketwan team misunderstand about this situation right now,I have learn that Malaysia have and agreement with UNHCR to receive more Rohingya people,also thay have agree with Thai authority to lead the way for Rohingya to Malaysia border,that not the push back policy for Royal Thai Navy,and help for human right , we have a lot of problem here in Thailand also in Phuket ,you work here stay here pls. Love Phuket and love Thailand.

Posted by Sis on November 7, 2011 21:11

Editor Comment:

You can agree with Laos all you like, Sis, and if there is a new policy in place, please ask your contacts to explain it to everyone.

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