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Rohingya boatpeople under arrest in Thailand's Trang province today

Rohingya Boat, 91 Held on Andaman Coast: Seven More Boats May Be at Sea

Saturday, January 22, 2011
A BOATLOAD of would-be Rohingya refugees landed on Thailand's Andaman Sea coast today and 91 men on board were apprehended.

As many as seven more vessels laden with people seeking to escape the harsh military rulers in Burma are sailing south past Thailand, Phuketwan has been told by a source with contacts inside Burma.

The Rohingya men apprehended about 1pm today wanted to go to Malaysia . . . and narrowly failed to make their destination. Engine difficulties forced them ashore in Trang, a southern province, close to the border with Malaysia.

When the Rohingya's unusually shaped boat appeared, villagers around Yao beach on the island of Libong gave the men food. However, they also took the precaution of calling the local police, said Marine Police Colonel Pradit Korsaman, of Trang's Kantang region.

The men said they had been at sea for 12 days, having paid 150,000 baht to purchase their seats on the boat. A spokesman in the group said they would be hanged if they were returned to Burma, Colonel Pradit said.

The men asked for help to get to Malaysia. At least one other group is believed to have been ''helped on'' to Malaysia after being intercepted in international waters off Thailand in 2010. That boat made it to Malaysia.

Once the boat landed today, however, Thailand had an international obligation to accept the 91 men and determine their future at a later date.

The group is now being held at Salaprachakom in Trang and will be interviewed tomorrow before a decision is made about their future.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority, are not acknowledged as citizens in Burma. Thousands have fled repression to Bangladesh, an impoverished neighbor to the north, where conditions are almost as bad.

Rohingya men and youths sail south in desperate hope of a better life.

After almost 5000 Rohingya were captured in Thailand during the sailing season of 2007-2008, the Government at the time adopted the covert policy of capturing Rohingya and secretly towing them out to open sea, without motors or much food.

The ''pushbacks'' by the military in Thailand in the sailing season of 2008-2009 came to an end after being exposed by Phuketwan journalists and the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong.

Hundreds of Rohingya are believed to have perished at sea before surviving would-be refugees in two boats came ashore in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Indonesia.

Numbers of would-be refugees sailing south have fallen dramatically since, although one group of about 40 Rohingya who were apprehended soon after exposure of the ''pushbacks'' policy is still being held in Bangkok two years on.

Two teenagers who were members of that group died while in the custody of Thailand's Immigration Bureau in Ranong, the port on the Burma border north of Phuket. Others were rescued and transferred to Bangkok after enduring months without exercise or sunlight.

With more boats reported to be on the water, the fate of the Rohingya becomes an international issue once again, with all eyes on Thailand.

Despite the hundreds of deaths in 2008-2009, the Thai Army's Internal Security Operations Command unit continues to oversee issues regarding the treatment of would-be Rohingya refugees.
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