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Occupants of the second boat are assembled in Satun province

Second Rohingya Boat Lands South of Phuket

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
A SECOND boatload of Rohingya and Bangladeshis has landed south of Phuket just one day after the first vessel, compounding concern about what will happen if hundreds more stateless would-be refugees follow.

Local authorities in two southern Thai provinces now have to assess these unwelcome newcomers by establishing their identities, checking their health, taking their fingerprints, then deciding what to do with them.

The 67 men on the second boat that landed on Sarai island in Tarutao National Park in Satun on Sunday appeared younger but just as hungry and exhausted as the 91 all-male occupants of the first boat that came ashore in Trang the previous day.

It's two years this week since the last boatload of Rohingya arrived in Thailand, concluding a tragic chapter of human rights abuse. Rohingya refugees were first secreted on an Andaman island then towed out to international waters and abandoned as part of Thailand's covert ''pushbacks'' policy. Unknown numbers, probably hundreds, perished at sea before survivors reached India and Indonesia.

The reprehensible policy ended when the South China Morning Post newspaper disclosed what was happening in a series of articles. That was two years ago, yet the last boatload of Rohingya to arrive and escape the ''pushbacks'' remains in a detention centre in Bangkok.

Local Satun fishermen raised the Rohingya alarm anew on Sunday when they spotted the unusual boat and its bedraggled occupants in the national park. The first boat took 12 days to travel south towards supposed sanctuary in Malaysia, and it's likely that the second boat departed from northern Burma or Bangladesh about the same time.

With one group of Rohingya still in detention after two years, it's probable that the same course of action will be taken with these two new groups until Thailand can find an acceptable solution to the entire region's unanswered question of what to do with unwanted Rohingya.

Some among the boatload from January 2009 eventually declared themselves to be citizens of Bangladesh, which entitled them to repatriation. Genuine Rohingya, though, denied citizenship in Burma or anywhere else, have no home to go back to.

Visit Tangpong, police chief in Trang province's Kantang district, told the AFP news agency that the new arrivals would be trucked straight back to Burma. But unless Burma's policy has changed, the Rohingya will not be accepted across the border.

"We are providing basic humanitarian assistance with food and water, but they were illegal immigrants,'' he told AFP. ''We have to follow our laws."

A different account emerged from Colonel Chawarat Plangsang, superintendent of the Satun city police station, who said: ''Special branch police arrested these men and passed them on to us. We will check their health, fingerprint them, take photos, and hear what they have to say.

''Tomorrow (Tuesday) we will pass them on to Immigration.''

It's anticipated both groups will be taken and held in Ranong, the border port in Thailand opposite the Burmese port of Victoria Point, where two teenage members of the previous boatload of Rohingya died in custody, and where others suffered crippling afflictions after being kept indoors without exercise or sunshine for months.

Seven of Sunday's arrivals carried cards that identified them as Bangladeshis. Several other boats are reported to be on the water, sailing south, but as with the first two boats, they may be forced ashore by hunger and exhaustion before they reach Malaysia.

Just one Rohingya boat is believed to have reached Malaysia in the past two years, and the occupants were taken into detention. Malaysia also applies caning as a penalty for illegal arrivals.

The Thai Navy ''helped along'' the Rohingya boat with food. Rear Admiral Choomnoom Ardwong, commander of the Third Navy, based in Phang Nga and Phuket, said yesterday that Navy vessels patrolled Thai waters north of Phuket and intercepted any unusual boats.

''Now these boats are appearing in the south,'' he said. Navy patrols mostly take place in northern waters. ''Our local networks would let us know if they spotted anything unusual. People in the south are less aware of what to do if a strange vessel approaches.''

The last group to arrive safely in Thailand in 2009 told authorities that several among them had been severely beaten and burned by Burmese officials, when they happened to go ashore prematurely. Those men were patched up in a Ranong hospital before being sent into detention.

Initially, military authorities believed that the passengers on the Rohingya boats were all-male because the men had been recruited to join the deadly insurgency in the southern Thai provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.

Only after Thailand's leading forensic scientist Dr Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand checked boats for residues of explosives was in accepted that the Rohingya menfolk travelled alone because they considered the voyage too perilous for their womenfolk to undertake.

Thailand's Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, visited the boatload of 62 Rohingya and Bangladeshis in detention in Ranong two years ago. He was coincidentally in Burma at the weekend to meet democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and talk to the country's military rulers.
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Comments

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The headline makes this seem a lot closer to home "South of Phuket".. yes, Tarutao is south of Phuket .. 200km south. The news is of course worth reporting, but the headline is misleading. I clicked on the headline expecting to see Rohingya at Racha Yai or something!

Posted by Jamie on January 25, 2011 15:33

Editor Comment:

Maybe one day you will read about Rohingya at Racha Yai. Rohingya have reportedly landed on Phuket and close to Phuket in the past, and may do so again. As the region's key identifier, we make no apologies for using Phuket regularly in headings - accurately in this case.


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