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Rohingya were left to help each other entering  Ranong Jail in January

Rohingha Deaths in Custody: Human Rights Blow

Tuesday, August 18, 2009
UPDATE

The Rohingya being detained in Ranong were shifted overnight on Tuesday to a detention centre closer to Bangkok. Ramadan, a period of abstinence for Muslims, begins later this week. Detainees who complained of vomiting blood in Ranong were given painkillers, latest reports say.

Original Report

A SECOND young Rohingya has died in custody in the space of seven weeks, intensifying concern over the condition of the surviving boatpeople being held in Thailand.

Soon after the second death, having been found to be in poor health, 13 others were treated in a hospital near the border detention centre.

The Immigration chief in Ranong, Police Lieutenant Colonel Nattarit Pinpak, attributed the deteriorating condition of the boatpeople to the hopelessness of their situation following seven months in detention.

''They get three meals a day,'' he said. ''But they have been here a long time.

''They do not know when they will be free, they have no contact with their families, and they seem to be giving up the will to eat and drink.''

The 13 seen by doctors on Sunday were medicated with saline drips, prescribed vitamins, and sent back into detention, the lieutenant colonel said.

On Monday four more Rohingya were taken to hospital, he added, suffering similar symptoms. One was admitted and is still an in-patient.

Kitty McKinsey, regional spokeswoman for UN refugee agency UNHCR, called today for access to the detained boatpeople on humanitarian grounds.

''We need to assess their condition and to be able to ensure their future protection,'' she said, repeating calls made earlier this year by two other international relief organisations for access.

The second death took place inside the Immigration centre in Ranong, where Burmese illegal workers frequently are held for short periods before being sent back.

The latest Rohingya fatality, Hama Tura, was found dead at 6am on August 13.

''We don't know why he died,'' Lieutenant Colonel Nattarit. ''At first light officers found his body on his bed.''

Lieutenant Colonel Nattarit could not give the dead man's age but said he was between 15 and 20 years old. The first victim, 18-year-old Abdul Salam, died in the local hospital on June 30.

A human rights lawyer, Nassir Achwarin, said today there was still no proper death certificate for Abdul Salam. He is now seeking details of the second death in custody.

The only official paperwork for the first death, signed by a Ranong Hospital doctor, reported that Abdul Salam's cause of death was ''heart arrest.''

''We have to interview Immigration officers to find out more about the circumstances of this second death,'' he said. ''We need answers.''

Khun Nassir, who is also a member of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, said he will visit Ranong to demand new accommodation for the Rohingya.

Lieutenant Colonel Nattarit said today that the Rohingya detainees were being treated the same as others in the centre.

In June, 29 of the 78 Rohingya being held in Ranong claimed they were Bangladeshi citizens. That group has since been transferred to Bangkok, where embassy officials are assessing the legitimacy of their claims.

Access has also been denied to that group, Kitty McKinsey said.

''We know these people were in bad condition when they went into the detention centre,'' she said. ''Without access, we are not able to tell what their problems are, or whether they need help.''

Official secrecy about the health of the detained Rohingya is similar to that surrounding the covert action under which the Thai Army oversaw the inhumane ''push-backs'' to sea of hundreds of Rohingya in December and January.

This group was the first boatload to be processed through the courts and fined for having arrived in Thailand illegally.

Because the Burmese government refuses to acknowledge them as citizens, talks aimed at their repatriation have failed to produce a solution.

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