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Phuket Rohingya awaiting their fate on arrival at Chalong Police Station

Rohingya Riddle Grows as Thailand Denies Pushback

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
UPDATE

A boatload of 129 would-be Rohingya refugees has come ashore in Aceh province of Indonesia, according to AFP news agency.

Original Report

CONFUSION still surrounds the treatment of boatpeople in Thailand.

Voyagers on the three vessels that arrived within nine days in late January are either being held in custody or deported ''in accordance with the country's immigration law,'' depending on assessments of their backgrounds.

Those who have been deported by Thai authorities, supposedly in conventional fashion, have mysteriously found themselves washed up days later, far away in India.

The Thai Foreign Ministry has brushed aside accusations that the 91 people now being held in the Andaman and Nicobar islands are there because they were ''pushed back'' by the Thai military.

According to the ministry, the illegal immigrants ''attested to be of Myanmar (Burmese) origin and therefore were deported at the border crossing in Ranong province.''

Yet something strange appears to have happened between the deportation back to Myanmar, and the arrival of the group, in some cases close to starvation, days later in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

These people, who once ''attested to be of Myanmar origin,'' are now Bangladeshi, according to the local Indian authorities, and Rohingya, according to the BBC and its well-placed sources.

Some confusion also continues in Thailand, where 33 voyagers from the third boatload to arrive continued to be held on Phuket, awaiting a visit from a team sent from the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Another 35 from the same boat are being held in neighboring Phang Nga province

Both these boatloads are broadly accepted to be would-be Rohingya refugees.

Yet there appears to be a difference in treatment between these two groups from the Phuket landing late on January 31 and the second boatload, still being held in the southern city of Songkhla.

In Songkhla, authorities have put nine boys aged under 15 into special care and separated them from the 57 men.

No such separation has taken place in Phang Nga, where five of the detainees are 15 or younger, or Phuket, where three are 15 or younger. Dozens of others are teenagers.

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, in New York for United Nations discussions about the border tension between Thailand and Cambodia, preferred to deflect the Rohingya issue when questioned by reporters, saying only that UNHCR was now involved.

With the men who washed up in India likely to be asked to explain in detail their accusations of mistreatment in Thailand, and with more boats reported to be at sea, the saga of the boatpeople clearly has some distance yet to sail.

The text of the Foreign Ministry press release is as follows:

Illegal migrants are treated in accordance with the law

On 11 February 2011 Mr Thani Thongphakdi, Director-General of the Department of Information and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, responded to media enquiries concerning news reports alleging that 91 Rohingyas found in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands were set adrift as follows:

1. From the latest information received, Thai authorities confirmed that they took into custody a group of 91 illegal immigrants found onshore in Trang province and handled their cases in accordance with the country's immigration law. They were well treated and provided with the necessary basic needs in official facilities under the care of the Thai authorities. These individuals subsequently attested to be of Myanmar origin and therefore were deported at the border crossing in Ranong province, which was in line with their wish. Thai authorities have no knowledge as to how this group of people may have travelled onwards after they departed from Thai territory.

2. To base assessment and findings on a one-sided account is unwarranted. Thailand has been providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, in spite of the heavy burden involved, in keeping with our long-standing tradition. This consideration has also been duly applied i the case of illegal immigrants to whom the Kingdom has to apply its immigration law.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Dear Editor,
Thank you for you updates and tenacious reporting and for not letting this story just disappear.
What does this mean? "UNHCR was now involved."
Involved from a distance or are they permitted to see the refugees?

Posted by VFaye on February 15, 2011 11:05

Editor Comment:

UHCR is due to visit Songkhla, Phuket and Phang Nga this week.

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I think there's nothing wrong with pushing back these people, likewise the Tunesians at Lampadusa should just be shipped back and newcomers repelled. We legals have to struggle with visas etc and nobody intercedes when I as a single father have to leave my young son every 3 months for a few days to get a new -O- visa with all inherent expenses and inconvenience, but if you're an illegal the UN and all other kinds of do-gooders are outraged. Basta!

Posted by Ian on February 15, 2011 11:07

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If I recall, the Thai Foreign Ministry also brushed aside allegations of pushback last time around, even after that incriminating CNN video surfaced.

So good on yer, Phuketwan, for keeping on this despite the fact that 'influential people' would like to push this story back, along with the refugees.

Posted by Treelover on February 15, 2011 11:51

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This time it well could be Burmese forces who put the Rohingyas into this atrocities. And I am not an "influential people".

Last time it was Thai special forces, this time I doubt it. Why? Because of Phuketwan and CNN.
But would be nice to see proof of the handover at Ranong border crossing. Video someone? If no proof like that, then its fishy.

And what are these people of UNHCR waiting for in Bangkok? Here is work for them and they take weeks to prepare a flight? That is unbelievable.

Posted by Lena on February 15, 2011 18:35

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Ian I agree. We as expats try to be legal but get shafted all the time.
Push these poor folks back in the sea and let them go to Malaysia. Enjoy the sea trip.

Posted by Robin on February 15, 2011 19:52

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Good report..all i know is these poeple were sent or made there way here to Thailand..would it not make sense to expatriate them back to where they come from...funds could be set up for this by whoever or whatever Country have this problem, after all they are illegal immigrants [refugees etc]...im sorry if you may think i am hard..but to me it seems common sense...which a lot of countries and UNCHR seem to be lacking.

Posted by STAN on February 16, 2011 07:58

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Dear Ian, your plight concerning a few days absence from your son is a bagatelle compared with the suffering of these people. But for the grace of God, you could have been one of them. Maybe in your next life you will be.

Dear Ian, Robin and Stan, whereas I sympathize to a certain extent with your views regarding illegal immigration into a country which not only tolerates their arrival but actually cares for them, there is absolutely no justification for casting these people off with a more than even chance they will die. I am old enough to remember how Thai fishermen treated Vietnamese boat people 30 years ago. They hacked off the legs of the men and watched the sharks do their work, raped the women then accorded them a similar fate. Children were included (considered that fate for your son Ian?). Perhaps you would like a repetition, and organize tourist trips to the scene. Nice little earner that.

Posted by A. Skeptic on February 17, 2011 01:02

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A Skeptic your name follows your opinions, whilst i hate bad treatment of human beings..you're talking about the past ..30 years ago..this is the present,with more instant knowledge and awareness..i still think my comment is correct.. in the present..2011

Posted by STAN on February 18, 2011 01:31


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