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Boat in which 91 Rohingya endured 12 days at sea in hopes of a future

Second Boat Ashore on Andaman Coast: More Refugees Sailing South

Monday, January 24, 2011
Phuketwan has learned that a second boatload of Rohingya has come ashore on the Andaman coast, this time in Satun province. It's the second boat to come ashore within two days. The first boat carried 91 men, the second 67.

As many as six more boats may be sailing south past Phuket in an attempt to reach Malaysia.

Here's our report that was published prominently today in Hong Kong's premier English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post:

A BOATLOAD of 91 Rohingya men are being detained on Thailand's Andaman coast - the first of hundreds who could soon arrive to test Bangkok's international pledges to treat the persecuted Muslim arrivals humanely.

More boats are reportedly sailing south from Bangladesh towards Malaysia - two years after Thailand faced international condemnation over secret policies of towing Rohingyas back out to sea in unpowered boats with little food and water, an operation that left hundreds missing and presumed drowned.

The Muslim men from Myanmar were exhausted when found on the island of Libong, south of Phuket, on Saturday after a 12-day voyage in a primitive open boat provisioned only with dried rice. They are the first reported cases of Rohingya boatpeople detained on Thai soil since January 2009, when the expulsions by the Thai army were exposed by the South China Morning Post.

Thai authorities will be anxious to avoid a repetition of the international scandal. Navy patrols in Thai waters are likely to increase as the military attempts to ''help along'' other desperate would-be refugees to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The men were to be trucked from the Thai coastal province of Trang to the city of Had Yai, where they are expected to be held in detention by immigration authorities.

Underscoring the plight of these stateless people, more than 200 survivors rescued in Indian waters two years ago - after being cast adrift by the Thai army - are still languishing in a Port Blair jail, in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

They include survivors of a voyage on which more than 300 men died of starvation or thirst, drowned or were eaten by sharks. One group of about 40 Rohingya, apprehended two years ago, is still being held in Bangkok.

The latest would-be refugees narrowly failed to make their destination. Engine trouble forced them ashore in Trang, not far from the Malaysian border.

The group had the good fortune to land among fellow Muslims, around Yao beach on the island of Libong. The villagers 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.

Photographs provided to the Post show the men under detention on Libong.

The men told police that they had been at sea for 12 days, having paid snakehead gangsters to get seats on the boat. A spokesman for the group said they would be hanged if they were returned to Myanmar, Pradit said.

The men asked for help to get to Malaysia, even though they knew that if they were apprehended in that country they might face caning and detention.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, are not acknowledged as anything more than economic refugees in Thailand. Their home country, Myanmar, does not grant them citizenship.

Thousands have been forced to flee decades of repression to Bangladesh, an impoverished neighbor.

Rohingya men and youths sail south in the desperate hope of a better life, hoping their wives and families can eventually follow.

Between November and the end of January, when the seasonal winds are at their most favorable, hundreds of Rohingya set off on the trip to Malaysia. Their vessels hug the coastline as they sail towards Thailand, from where they hope to finish the journey overland.

After almost 5000 Rohingya were captured in Thailand during the sailing season of 2007-08, the Thai army at the time adopted its secret ''pushback'' policy.

But that approach officially ended in the wake of international shock and condemnation, prompted by the stories of Rohingya dying at sea.

Since then, the numbers of would-be refugees sailing south have fallen dramatically. Just one boatload has been reported in the intervening two years, and it eventually reached Malaysia.

But now several boats are believed to be attempting the voyage, suggesting that the Rohingya's motivation to take such enormous risks in an open boat on a long voyage appears to have increased.
The men are usually crammed into the vessels with no protection from the sun.

They have only basic dried rice softened with water, and only visual clues to guide them in the right direction.

The boat that did reach Malaysia is believed to have been ''helped along'' by the Thai military after being intercepted in international waters off Thailand in 2010, although the Thai navy has strongly denied any involvement. The boat was apprehended when it reached Malaysia.

A spokesman at the Kantang Immigration office in Trang said yesterday that the latest arrivals were likely to be transferred to Ranong province, where the facilities were larger.

''They are not likely to give anyone any trouble,'' he said. ''The men are clearly exhausted from their journey. In any case, they are probably not prone to violence.''

Despite the hundreds of deaths in 2008-09 and the promise by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of an investigation, the army's secretive Internal Security Operations Command unit continues to oversee the handling of would-be Rohingya refugees.

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

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These poor people -- seems they have a bleak future regardless of the journey's direction. Is the UN doing anything about these cases?

Thanks for keeping us up to date on this -- we tend to get a bit insular living here in Phuket; easy to forget that life is extremely tough for many in this region!

Posted by L on January 24, 2011 17:13


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