NINE boats containing about 1000 Rohingya men, women and children are off the coast in the Phuket region now, maritime authorities said on Monday. Two boats that were being ''helped on'' are now being brought to shore, the authorities said.
PHUKET: Two boatloads of would-be Rohingya refugees are being ''helped on'' off the coast north of Phuket today as one senior military officer in the Andaman region called for the Thai government to clarify its policy.
''We are encountering so many boats already this year with woman and children on board,'' he said, preferring not to be named. ''Signs are that they will come in even greater numbers now.''
Another senior officer said that the boats were coming in such vast numbers that the Thai military could no longer accurately tally passenger totals.
The latest interceptions occurred off the coast from the fishing port of Kuraburi in Phang Nga province today, with the Thai Navy and Marine Police checking the health and welfare of passengers at sea.
''We cannot hope to intercept all the boats,'' the second senior officer said.
Another sign that a vast, unstoppable migration by sea is underway comes with the raids on clandestine camps on the Thai-Malaysia border over the past few days.
The raids have netted more than 900 men, women and children and incriminated a local mayor and his deputy in a lucrative people trafficking trade that has operated with impugnity for years.
The Army cracked down on two camps and local police and Immigration instigated a third raid.
The latest raid overnight Saturday, executed by the Army, exposed a former cockfighting arena where hundreds of Rohingya were being held and fed just one meal a day.
All of the raids have taken place around the Pedang Besar region of Thailand's Songkhla province, close to the border with Malaysia.
The latest camp to be discovered was equipped with expensive security cameras. Rohingya are said to be forced to pay 50,000-60,000 baht per person to purchase their illegal passage to Malaysia.
One man said that after a 20-day journey by boat, he had been kept in a camp for two months and beaten regularly because he had failed to raise the border transfer fee from family or friends.
Tacitly sanctioned ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State in Burma has left thousands of Rohingya homeless and with no source of income, triggering a rush to board smugglers' boats south in hope of finding sanctuary and a fresh start.
Since Buddhist neighbors began torching Rohingya villages in June, hundreds of women and children have joined the epic sea voyages for the first time.
A spokesperson at a refuge in Songkhla where 105 women and children are being held said today access by outsiders was not permitted, and the group's needs were being met.
Hundreds of Rohingya men are being held mostly at crowded police station cells around Songkhla while their future is decided.
The 10 nations of the Asean regional grouping have consistently avoided dealing directly with Burma's race-hate policy towards the Rohingya, preferring instead to pretend there is no exodus, and no abuses.
The raids on the traffickers' camps and the growing number of sailings of Rohingya boats from Bangladesh and Burma show that Thailand's ''help on'' policy has simply allowed traders in human flesh to help themselves.