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Female survivors from the April 9 container suffocation that killed 54. The women arrive at Ranong Immigration after being trucked from jail on April 20

Exile Island Plan: Two Hundred Burmese in Jail

Saturday, April 19, 2008
ABOUT 200 Burmese Muslims, known as Rohingya, are being held in jail by Immigration officials in Phang Nga, Phuketwan has learned.

Two Andaman Sea islands, including one in the Similans, a popular international tourist diving destination, are now being considered as the options for a long-term detention centre for Rohingya.

Many of the Rohingya now being held in Phang Nga were arrested by local police in a series of recent raids, mostly in the Khao Lak area, where the Rohingya were working illegally as street vendors and in shops.

About 80 Rohingya landed on a boat on Ko Kor Kao two weeks ago and have been held since then. Alarmed villagers on the island alerted police to their presence.

Earlier, officials told Phuketwan incorrectly that the group had been trucked back to the border.

The Governor of Phang Nga, Wichai Praisa-Ngob, told Phuketwan that Rohingha already in the Khao Lak region had taught later arrivals how to sell souvenirs to tourists.

The Rohingya were mostly engaged in dealing with tourists. Other non-Muslim Burmese who came to Phang Nga illegally tended to work in the construction industry, he said.

The governor said he agreed with the national government's idea of setting up a detention centre on an island off the Andaman coast for Rohingya who have been arrested in Thailand or at sea in Thai waters.

''There is one suitable island in the Kuraburi area,'' he said.

A spokesman for the Thai Navy, Captain Montri Rodvisit, told Phuketwan that the Navy was considering Tachai island, one of nine Similan islands, for the detention centre.

They were also looking at Komnui island, off the coast of Phang Nga.

The Similans group forms part of a marine park that is noted for its coral reefs and a haven for breeding turtles. The islands off the Andaman coast are visited by steady streams of divers on speedboats and live-aboards during the high season.

Governor Wichai said he wanted the law changed so that more foreign workers could come in and support the plantation, fishing and construction industries.

At present, the number of Burmese allowed to work legally in Thailand is limited and the quota system fails to meet the numbers required by many employers.

The governor would like to see more workers come to Thailand, but without their families.

''I would like a system where the foreign workers pay tax so the cost of their use of health centres, hospitals and other services is paid for by them.''

But he said the Rohingya were different to other Burmese because they posed a national security risk.

Suspicions have been aroused about the intentions of the Rohingya because all of those arrested have been young adult men.

The group arrested on Koh Kor Kao told officials there had been deaths at sea during a perilous, under-provisioned sea voyage from their home state in northern Burma.

The Rohingya are one of several ethnic minority groups that are persecuted and poorly treated by Burma's ruling military junta.

The number of Burmese fleeing to Andaman coast provinces has increased dramatically this year.

Governor Wichai said he believed that Rohingya arrested in Thailand should be held for long periods, perhaps years, in detention to discourage others from coming.

The deaths of 54 illegal Burmese migrants in a container on a truck bound for Phuket on April 9 highlighted the extent of the illegal immigration.

Several people are being held in Ranong, accused of people-trafficking.

The tragedy has also aroused the concern of human rights advocates. The different standards applied to the Rohingya and the plan for a detention centre to deter others have also begun to generate concern.

For Complete Background:

Crackdown on Burmese as Arrest Numbers Grow

54 Burmese Found Dead in Phuket Bound Container

Deathship Burmese Muslims Forced Back to Border

Andaman Island Sites Readied for Boat People

Burmese Detention Island Cause for Concern

Water and Fire: A Tsunami Reunion


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