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Rohingya captured and transported out of Thailand at the weekend

Boatpeople 'Destined for Factories or Trawlers'

Monday, November 12, 2012
PHUKET: A group of 112 Rohingya boatpeople who landed in Thailand on Saturday were ''deported to Burma'' on Sunday, a spokesperson for Immigration in Thailand said today.

The spokesperson, based in Ranong, a port on the border with Burma, declined to elaborate.

A list of the names of the people on the boat, obtained by Phuketwan, showed that there were 56 teenagers on board the flimsy vessel, including one 14-year-old. Another 46 passengers were under 26.

The boat, which landed a short distance north of Phuket on a beach at Tai Muang, was one of seven that left northern Burma about the same time, carrying about 1000 people in all, the men and boys said.

There is no transparency in the handling of Rohingya boatpeople who happen to land in Thailand as they flee repression and ethnic cleansing in Burma's Rakhine state.

The men and boys were officially categorised as Burmese by Thai authorities, even though Muslim-minority Rohingya are stateless and denied citizenship in Burma.

Burmese caught illegally in Thailand were once fined by courts then served a sentence in detention commensurate with their fine before being sent back to Burma.

Conventional practice appears to have been suspended as Thailand again adopts a more secretive approach to dealing with boatloads of unwanted Rohingya.

As the Rohingya are not welcome in Burma, the usual process is no longer applied in Thailand.

A Rohingya activist said it was most likely that some if not all of the boys and men who arrived in Thailand at the weekend, fleeing Burma in search of a better life, would be sold and put to work in fish factories or as indentured labor on fishing trawlers.

The lucky ones with the potential to raise money would have been returned to people traffickers to begin a new journey south, the activist said.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told Phuketwan: ''The desperation of the Rohingya fleeing in boats is clear evidence of the dire situation they face in Arakan state [also known as Rakhine], where blatantly discriminatory policies and threats of renewed violence by ethnic Rakhine and local security forces are part of the Rohingyas' day-to-day existence.

''This is just the beginning of what many fear will be a record-breaking "boat season' for Rohingya fleeing Burma. Thailand has a duty to receive these asylum seekers and treat them humanely."

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