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The sea gypsy museum at Koh Sireh, east of Phuket City, has been built but is yet to open. It's believed the land is part of the disputed property

Phuket Sea Gypsies Stage Sit-Down Protest to Ward Off Title Claim

Thursday, November 15, 2012
PHUKET: A large Phuket sea gypsy community staged a sit-down protest today when Land Titles Office officials attempted to survey part of their traditional village.

The people on Koh Sireh, an island east of Phuket City, objected to the survey being made on behalf of an unnamed individual who claims 11 rai of land within the area that the sea gypsies call home.

''We won't go, we won't go, we will be here,'' chorused protesting mothers and children.

It is estimated about 200 of the 1600 sea gypsies from 300 families who live in the Koh Sireh village took part.

An individual went to the Phuket City Land Titles Office on November 1 and asked for a survey to be made for 11 rai for which a title is claimed.

Titles office surveyors abandoned their task today and left to consider the next course of action.

In 2010 Cabinet recognised the cultural importance of the Andaman sea gypsies and recommended setting up special cultural zones for ethnic groups.

Since the 2004 tsunami especially, various land grabs have been made for sites traditionally claimed by sea gypsies on Phuket and along the Andaman coast, from the Malaysian border to the border with Burma.

While the value of the sea gypsy culture to tourism has been recognised, so has the value of seafront land once considered worthless.

The Koh Sireh community is considered to be stronger and better prepared to defend its rights than the sea gypsies of Rawai, south of Phuket City, where a similar battle for traditional lands continues.

Some communites of sea gypsies elsewhere along the Andaman coast are thriving. Others have been left to languish, deprived of basic hygiene and housing.

Not all of them have yet won the right to be considered Thai citizens, although their families' existence in Thailand extends back generations.

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Friday October 23, 2020
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