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Captured Rohingya at a Phuket police station awaiting detention

Holiday Coast Ready to Repel Rohingya Boats

Monday, July 30, 2012
PHUKET: The Thai military and coastal volunteers are ready to repel thousands of Rohingya boatpeople within weeks as the outcast Muslim minority group flees persecution in Burma.

Even Marine Police along Thailand's holiday Andaman coast around Phuket are keenly tuning to the latest news from Burma to the north. An unprecedented exodus of men, women and children is being anticipated. A ragtag armada that must be ''helped on.''

Lately the talk has been of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's debut speech in Parliament in which she supported the rights of ethnic minorities in Burma, but without naming the Rohingya. Burma, it seems, is a long way from moderating its entrenched racism.

One Rohingya boat is already reported this month to have sailed past Ranong, the Thai port on the Burma border, into the teeth of the south west monsoon, which usually generates waves big enough to sink ricketty boats of the type in which people smugglers sell berths to the desperate Rohingya.

But any would-be refugees who put to shore in Thailand will be repelled immediately, authorities have repeated.

''Thailand can no longer afford to put these people into detention,'' said the village chief of Ranong province's Phayam island, Somnuk Chimnikorn. ''We are ready for them. We will give them food and water, and help them back out to sea.''

Khun Somnuk said that Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command had been training locals all along the coast to make sure the Rohingya boats are ''helped on.''

The Rohingya know that boatpeople will not be arrested and jailed in Thailand, as they would be in Burma, where some boatpeople have said they have also been tortured. Their claims to refugee status - now stronger than ever after recent racist persecution - will be ignored as usual.

''In the past we have sometimes had to repel boats two or three times,'' village chief Somnuk said. ''But if we have to do that, then that's what we will do.''

In the past, the hundreds of Rohingya boats that have attempted to reach Malaysia have consisted entirely of adult men and teenage boys - with one exception. Marine Police in the Andaman fishing port of Kuraburi say they apprehended one boat also containing women and children late last year.

They expect more women and children to sail now because thousands of the Rohingya are now homeless, with entire villages burned to the ground in last month's sectarian unrest in Burma's Rakhine State.

Experts say scores have been killed and as many as 100,000 are without homes. Burmese military have been accused of targetting the Rohingya.

Even usually-tolerant Buddhist monks have since joined in the criticism and persecution of the Rohingya, who remain non-citizens despite their claim to 400 years or more of continuous residence in Burma.

Although the Thai military and volunteers along the coast expect record numbers of Rohingya to flee Burma this October-April sailing season, a Rohingya spokesperson based on Phuket does not believe that's likely.

''The Rohingya in Rakhine state have lost their homes,'' he said. ''There is every reason for them to flee. But they are being kept under tighter control than ever before now in rough camps,'' the spokesperson said.

''We cannot send them money because even access to their bank accounts has been restricted. They will only be allowed to sail if that is what Burmese officials want them to do.''

As in past sailing seasons, Rohingya who have already fled north from Burma across the border to impoverished Bangladesh are also expected to flee by boat.

Rohingya making the journey towards Muslim-majority Malaysia usually carry just the clothes they wear, dried rice that can be reconstituted, and a little water.

Several boats have landed in Phuket in recent sailing seasons, but they are sometimes officially recorded as illegal Burmese, even though a Rohingya translator has been used to speak to the men.

Navigating without any knowledge of the coast, the boats usually put to shore whenever food and water run out. But in coming weeks, as thousands put to sea, they know they will find no sanctuary in Thailand.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Thank you for keeping the spotlight on this tragedy the world keeps largely ignoring.

I wonder why are these people so hated in this region anyway ? I know Thais deeply dislike people with dark complexion but plenty of Bangladeshi and Nepalese living in harmony in Thailand regardless. That alone can't explain it.

If anyone knows, please educate me. I don't get it.

Posted by Andrew on July 30, 2012 13:28

Editor Comment:

The Thais don't have a particular problem with Rohingya. The Burmese do. The Thai approach is purely a defence of borders. When Rohingya do come ashore, they are usually well treated . . . until they go into detention. As this no longer happens, it is no longer an issue.


...nice to know so many of the people in the world don't believe they are their brother's keeper... people are really loosing the point... what happened to ONE World ONE Family...

Posted by capT Canada on July 30, 2012 14:14

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