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Handcuffed Rohingya being transported to Phuket Immigration this evening

More Rohingya Land on Phuket: Police Search for Surin Boatpeople

Friday, February 22, 2013
PHUKET: Eight Rohingya boatpeople have been apprehended on Phuket and police are tonight looking for 14 more said to have landed with them at Surin beach early today.

One group of five men walked along Phuket's coast road from Surin, a five-star tourist destination, to Kamala, north of Patong, when they came off the boat at 4am.

At Kamala they asked a policeman for food and water and he took them to the local police station. Three more Rohingya were found by locals about 10am in Kamala and taken to the police station.

Kamala Muslims visited the Rohingya today, bringing new clothes, food and water. The men told the visitors that they had been on the water for 28 days sailing south from the troubled township of Sittwe.

Visitors said the men were in tears, asking to be allowed to call relatives inside Burma to let them know they had arrived safe in Thailand.

The boatpeople were named to Phuketwan this afternoon as Anu Mear, 35, Kulla Mear, 35, Mahamad, 23, Mulllaud, 22, Mahamad Aubdull, 30, Pamad Adeyen, 22, Wada, 27, and Mahamad Are-dee, 16.

The men said they had been on the water for about twice the time voyages usually take from Burma to Phuket. It's a longer period at sea that a boat recently rescued off Sri Lanka on which 97 or 98 people are said to have perished from thirst and starvation.

The eight, handcuffed in pairs and recorded as ''Burmese'' rather than Rohingya, were taken to Immigration headquarter in Phuket City this evening.

It's not known whether they will be included with 1700 other Rohingya being held temporarily in Thailand, apprehended in January from boats or ''rescued'' from secret people-smuggling camps along the Thai-Malaysia border.

The boat in which the men arrived on Phuket has yet to be found. It's the third Rohingya boatload to intersect with Phuket, Thailand's most popular tourist holiday island, so far this year.

A group of 73 men, women and children were discovered off southern Phuket on January 1, sparking the concern for the first time that whole families were now risking their lives where once only men and teeange boys took the risk.

Another group of 205 men and boys was ''helped on'' towards Malaysia by the Royal Thai Navy when intercepted south of Phuket. The boatpeople clapped the navy personnel for providing water and allowing them to continue their journey.

Today's boatload has arrived as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a statement in Geneva saying that the Indian Ocean had become ''one of the deadliest stretches of water in the world'' for people fleeing their countries.

The recent arrival of 32 survivors in Sri Lanka from a boat that set off from Burma containing 130 has triggered horror at the nightmare journeys undertaken by some Rohingya.

According to some of the survivors, the boat first sailed to Thailand where Thai navy sailors took their engine - a claim that was quickly rejected by a Thai defence Ministry spokesman.

Although the Thai military did secretly push back Rohingya boats in 2009, the Navy was falsely accused but not involved in the pushbacks. About 200 Rohingya were reckoned to have died.

Growing awareness of the Rohingya tragedy is bringing calls for action on the part of Asean and within Burma, where authorities tacitly allow the inhumane treatment of Rohingya in Rakhine state to continue.

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at the press briefing, on 22 February 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR IS CONCERNED about a rising numbers of deaths in the Indian Ocean involving people fleeing their countries for safety and better lives elsewhere. This includes many Rohingya from Burma (Myanmar).

Already in 2013, several thousand people are believed to have boarded smuggler's boats in the Bay of Bengal, among them Rohingya from Rakhine state or from Bangladesh's refugee camps and makeshift sites.

Most are men, but there are also increasing reports of women and children on these often-rickety boats making the journey southwards.

We estimate that of the 13,000 people who left on smugglers' boats in 2012, close to 500 died at sea when their boats broke down or capsized.

While UNHCR is still gathering data from 2012 on deaths at sea, it is clear that the Indian Ocean has become for people fleeing their countries one of the deadliest stretches of water in the world.

In the latest incident, only a week ago, some 90 people -believed to be Rohingya - are said to have died of dehydration and starvation during a journey that lasted almost two months.

More than 30 survivors were rescued from this vessel last weekend by the Sri Lankan navy off Sri Lanka's east coast. Earlier in February, around 130 people reportedly originating from Myanmar and Bangladesh were also rescued at sea by the Sri Lankan navy. We are seeking independent access to the survivors to assess their situation and needs.

UNHCR is greatly saddened by this latest terrible ordeal, and commends the quick action of the Sri Lankan navy in rescuing this group and providing immediate medical attention.

UNHCR is ready to support the Sri Lankan authorities in assisting any among them who are in need of international protection.

Violence in western Myanmar's Rakhine state erupted last June between different communities there. Since then some 115,000 people - the majority of them Rohingya - have been uprooted.

Most continue to be internally displaced within Rakhine state, but others have resorted to smugglers to flee their country.

About 1700 people have arrived in recent months on the southern coast of Thailand, where the Royal Thai Government has granted them six months of temporary protection until solutions can be found.

UNHCR teams are talking to the men, who are held in detention facilities, and to the women and children who are in government-run shelters, to assess their situations.

In addition to those who have landed in Thailand, an estimated 1800 people have arrived in Malaysia since the start of the year. When notified, UNHCR intervenes to secure their release from detention and seeks access to assess their protection needs.

UNHCR recognises the regional dimension of the irregular movements of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants by sea. Genuine cooperative regional approaches that promote sharing of burdens and responsibility could offer asylum seekers and refugees an alternative to dangerous and exploitative boat journeys.

UNHCR offers its expertise and good offices to play a constructive role in this process.

Repeated tragedies at sea also demonstrate the need for a coordinated regional response to distress and rescue at sea.

We urge States to agree protocols for the safe and quick disembarkation of rescued passengers and the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Mechanisms must be in place to assess the needs of and solutions for different groups, including access to UNHCR for those in need of international protection.

To help move this process forward, UNHCR is facilitating discussions between interested governments and international organisations at a regional meeting on irregular movements by sea to be held in Jakarta in March.

Amid continuing news reports of boats being pushed back to sea by some countries, UNHCR also urges States in the region to keep their borders open to people in need of international protection, to uphold the principle of non-refoulement and to offer them temporary assistance and protection until durable solutions can be found.

In parallel, UNHCR has been advocating with the Myanmar government to urgently address the root causes of the outflow.

The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens of Myanmar and face many restrictions in their daily lives in Rakhine state.

To resolve the problem, we encourage the government to commit to promoting reconciliation and peaceful co-existence as well as economic development in Rakhine state, pursue practical measures to ensure basic rights so that the Rohingya can lead normal lives where they are, and eventually grant them access to citizenship.

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