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Rohingya caught in the merry-go-round in Thailand

Sordid Deception Fails to Hide Truth

Friday, February 14, 2014
News Analysis

PHUKET: People concerned about the welfare of the Rohingya being driven into the sea from Burma are entitled to be confused this weekend.

There have been conflicting statements. Thailand's immigration bureau commissioner told the Bangkok Post that 1300 Rohingya being held in Thailand had been deported back to Burma (Myanmar).

That seemed odd to Phuketwan because the Burmese government doesn't want them back and the Rohingya do not want to go back.

By Friday, Human Rights Watch Thailand representative Sunai Phasuk was calling for an investigation into where the Rohingya are now and what happened to them.

The truth is, as Phuketwan first revealed on October 21, that Thai authorities pretend to deport the Rohingya, taking their names and fingerprints for the record, then actually deliver them into the arms of people traffickers.

Some of them, debilitated by months in cramped captivity in cells in Thailand, ''rescued'' in the past couple of weeks from the traffickers' secret camps for the second time in 12 months, have been dying from the effects of their nightmarish treatment.

Just why some Thai authorities continue to deceive themselves and others and pretend the Rohingya are being treated humanely we can only guess.

But it probably has something to do with the likelihood that Thailand is destined to be relegated lower on the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report later this year.

All Rohingya boatpeople mysteriously flee Burma and appear in camps along the border with Malaysia, having last been seen putting out to sea.

Yet the Royal Thai Navy, having once been adept at ''helping on'' smaller craft with food and water to bypass Thailand entirely, now says nothing.

The boats carrying the Rohingya are larger these days and the smuggling is industrial strength in scale.The ships mostly are believed to use international waters and skip Thai waters where they can.

But the ships must eventually enter Thai waters to drop off their human cargoes in southern Thailand, south of Phuket.

Yet this inhumane process takes place without traffickers being arrested or Rohingya ever being ''rescued'' at sea.

One has to wonder: where is the Royal Thai Navy? Where are the Marine Police? What about the Army's Internal Security Operations Command, responsible for patrolling Thailand's borders?

At week's end, Human Rights Watch Thailand representative Sunai Phasuk called for some honesty: ''We want a transparent investigation into what has actually happened to these 1300 Rohingya since we're getting contradictory stories from the Thai authorities.''

The problem for Thai authorities is that almost at the same time that one official was spinning a tall tale about the Rohingya being formally ''deported'' to Burma, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, a US-educated commander put in charge of the Songkhla region's anti-trafficking campaign late last year, was telling a Reuters journalist what really happens.

And what really happens is precisely what Phuketwan first reported back in October.

Major General Thatchai told journalist Andrew R. C Marshall that under the policy, Immigration hire boats to ferry the Rohingya across Thailand's maritime border to Burma, where he admitted they are met not by the Burma authorities but by unidentified brokers.

The brokers then smuggle them to Muslim-majority Malaysia. Major General Thatchai admitted this process opened the deportees to possible exploitation by human traffickers.

But he said this ''natural channel'' was better than handing over the Rohingya to the Burma authorities, who often meted out long jail sentences. ''It's about humanity,'' he said.

''We can't do that. Many are women and children.''

How much longer this exodus of shame will continue from Burma, with the connivance of Thailand's men in uniform, it's impossible to guess.

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This almost makes Australia's boat people policy seem humane

Posted by Arthur on February 16, 2014 06:35


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