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Rohingya boatpeople in Ranong in 2009 are still being held two years on

Be Honest About Missing Boatpeople, Rights Group Tells Thailand: BBC Reports 'Pushback' Claims

Thursday, February 10, 2011

THE BBC is today reporting that a boatload of Rohingya that came ashore on remote islands in Indian territory said they were set adrift in an engine-less boat on the high seas by the Thai Navy.
Thailand has denied the charge, the BBC says.
An independent source told Phuketwan today that 35 boatpeople transferred from Phuket to Phang Nga are at the Phang Nga Immigration centre, despite official denials of their presence.

Original Report: 2009 Photo Album Above

HUMAN Rights Watch is calling on the Thai Government to explain what has happened to three boatloads of would-be refugees and to clarify reports that inhumane ''pushbacks'' have resumed along Thailand's coast.

''This whole exercise is like a massive game of hiding the peanut under the ever-moving coconut shells - and only the Thais know where the peanut is,'' HRW spokesperson Phil Robertson told Phuketwan.

The mysterious landing of 91 men on the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the weekend has closely followed the arrival of 226 would-be refugees on the holiday island of Phuket and along Thailand's southern coast.

All 91 of the latest boatpeople castaways were said to be approaching starvation and 25 have been admitted to hospital, local reports say.

Were these the same 91 men who arrived in Thailand on January 22, first in a new wave of persecuted Rohingya boatpeople sailing south from Burma and Bangladesh? And have they been ''pushed back'' into peril on the open sea by the Thai military?

No, say Thai Immigration officials, who claim those 91 are still in captivity in Thailand but being held as ''Burmese from the south,'' not Rohingya.

Quite possibly, say two aid organisations, who are now trying to interview the distant island castaways to clarify whether they have been mistreated in contravention of international laws or are a separate boatload with the same precise number of voyagers as the boat that landed in southern Thailand on January 22.

Maybe yes, maybe no, imply senior Thai officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who have conceded privately to two NGOs that there has been at least one recent ''deportation'' of boatpeople from Thailand.

The outcome of the confusion so far? Despite efforts over the past several days to trace all 226 recent arrivals in Thailand, Phuketwan cannot be sure that the repulsive ''pushbacks'' of 2008-2009 are not happening all over again.

Yet even the officers we spoke to in the Royal Thai Navy and Immigration agree that it's time the Thai Government clarified its policy to end their own confusion and frustration.

Human Rights Watch spokesperson Phil Robertson says the Thai Government has the power to be open and honest about what has happened to all the recently arrived would-be refugees.

''The Thai government should be much more transparent on how many Rohingya are being detained, and provide details on who the individuals are, which Immigration detention centers they are in, and what special measures are being taken to protect children under 18, who should not be locked up with adults.

''And, as we have called for already, the Thai government should provide immediate, unhindered access to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to conduct refugee screening determination and commit to release from detention all those Rohingya determined to be refugees.''

As well as confusion over the identity of the 91 people who are now in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which is Indian territory, Phuketwan has been unable to locate 35 would-be refugees that Immigration officers on Phuket say were transferred to cells in Phang Nga to relieve pressure on limited accommodation on Phuket.

Thirty-three of the 68 boatpeople who arrived on Phuket in darkness on January 31 in the third recent boatload are still being held in cells at Immigration island headquarters in Phuket City, officials say.

While mystery surrounds the first and third boatloads to arrive in Thailand in the past few weeks, the whereabouts of the second boatload seems clear.

Immigration officials in the southern city of Songkhla say that 58 of the boatload of 67 that arrived on January 23 are still being held in detention there. They also say that nine boys, all aged under 15, have been separated from the men and are now being cared for by social welfare authorities.

Songkhla officials also say they could provide documentation that would show they sent the 91 men from the first boatload north to the Thai-Burma border Immigration centre in Ranong.

Fifty-five men were trucked from Songkhla on January 24, Phuketwan was told, and the remaining 36 followed on January 25.

On arrival in Ranong, though, the 91 were documented as ''Burmese from the south'' rather than Rohingya, which enabled Ranong Immigration officials to truthfully tell Phuketwan: ''We have no Rohingya here.''

It is not known whether the men in the boat actually said they were Burmese in the hope of avoiding harsh treatment, or whether that assessment of their background was made by local arresting police who may not have been aware of the boat's true origins.

Largest mystery, though, surrounds the whereabouts today of the 91 amid concern about whether Thailand's notorious ''pushbacks'' have resumed.

Hundreds of Rohingya are believed to have perished at sea before Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong revealed the Thai military's secret and inhumane treatment of boatpeople in January 2009.

A series of reports and photographs brought to an end the constant stream of thousands of boatpeople that had been steadily increasing from Burma and Bangladesh over previous sailing seasons.

With the spectre of more ''pushbacks'' raised again by the arrival of 91 boatpeople in the Andaman and Nicobar islands - some of the 2009 survivors were eventually plucked to safety there and in Indonesia - a Royal Thai Navy officer admitted for the first time yesterday that a naval vessel had intercepted at least one boat last month.

The interception took place ''between Thailand and Malaysia'' on January 20, two days before the first boatload landed on the Thai coast.

The source said that the boatload was ''helped on'' - the less brutal policy that allegedly replaced the covert ''pushback'' policy two years ago.

Under the ''help on'' policy, patrolling Thai navy vessels intercept boatpeople in international waters and ''help them on'' to their chosen destination with food, water, and if the boat has an engine, fuel and mechanical repairs.

Voyagers on one boatload that landed in Thailand last month are said to have asked local people: ''Is this Malaysia?'' Muslim-majority Malaysia is believed to be the preferred destination for the would-be refugees.

A boatload that was ''helped on'' by the Thai Navy last year successfully reached Malaysia, where the government granted access to the UNHCR - and all were declared refugees.

A boatload of Rohingya apprehended in Thailand soon after the ''pushbacks'' came to an end is still being held in detention in Bangkok, more than two years on, with access denied.
Thailand's Rohingya Vanish: Spectre of Pushbacks Nightmare
Breaking News UPDATE More than half the Rohingya boatpeople who arrived on the Andaman coast in recent weeks are unaccounted for by Immigration authorities, raising the spectre of the notorious ''pushbacks.''
Thailand's Rohingya Vanish: Spectre of Pushbacks Nightmare

More Phuket Boatpeople! About 68 Rohingya Land on Phuket in Two Groups
Breaking News UPDATE About 68 Rohingya in two groups have been apprehended after the first boatpeople waded ashore on a quiet part of Phuket near a luxury five-star resort.
More Phuket Boatpeople! About 68 Rohingya Land on Phuket in Two Groups

Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed
Photo Album Concern is increasing about the manner in which Rohingya are being secretly turned back to sea off Thailand after first being detained on an Andaman island
Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed

Boat People in Torment: Hell on a Holiday Coast
Rohingya boat people were arrested off the Andaman coast this afternoon amid widening concern about their fate. The Muslim refugees are being kept in secret and sent back to sea.
Boat People in Torment: Hell on a Holiday Coast

Phuket Reporters Win Human Rights Prize
News Awards Phuketwan reporters have shared an important international Human Rights Award in Hong Kong for their work in exposing the plight of the Rohingya boatpeople.
Phuket Reporters Win Human Rights Prize


Comments have been disabled for this article.


An example of the Burma Junta's evil intentions; they are probably delighted if these poor harmless people all die.

Making local people walk in front of their soldiers over mine fields is another recent horror exposed.

Posted by wellington on February 10, 2011 10:37


If Thai PM Abhisit respects human beings and believes in human VALUES, he must be Honest About Missing Boatpeople (Rohingya) not that Devil Than Shwe of Burma. Why? Because Than Shwe is no Human Being.
Thai PM Abhisit should never again lie to the World as he did in 2009.

Posted by Anuar on February 10, 2011 11:47


"Human Rights Watch spokesperson Phil Robertson says the Thai Government has the power to be open and honest about what has happened to all the recently arrived would-be refugees."

He's right the Thai Government do have the power to be open and honest... but will they? Most unlikely given their track record.

Do you think the Thai Government actually care? Again, look at their track record, they don't care about their own citizens so why would they care about refugees?

Ask yourself this... How much positive change has happened in the last 20 years that has actually benefited the people or indeed humanity. Not an awful lot, if any at all, would be the honest answer.

Posted by Graham on February 10, 2011 17:23


Great work, Phuketwan.
I know it is controversial to support these refugees in Thailand and also to put blame on the Thai authorities. So helping is important.
As a Phuket resident I really feel bad for them. Some years back a lot of vietnamese boat refugees were picked up from sea in similar situations when their were spotted by commercial ships. Often found without food and sufficient water and after spending weeks in open boats. Many just disappeared. To offer help is required by international law. Many of the Vietnamese have been integrated in the West and become very skilled and respected citizens. We have a lot of them in my country Norway. Hard working people with a strong will. Give these new refugees a chance! They have really sacrificed a lot and taken big risks and need all the help they can get. Are there any falang support groups for them in Phuket ? Or are they taken well care of my their muslim brothers and sisters ?

Posted by Jojo on February 10, 2011 19:23

Editor Comment:

The Vietnamese had it a little easier because they had a country to call home. Because the Rohingya are stateless, everyone oppresses them. At least one Muslim community on Phuket has helped where it can. But few Rohingya have the opportunity to make Phuket their home.

Wednesday October 21, 2020
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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