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Boat people help a burns victim go from prison van to jail in Ranong

Teenager's Death Highlights Plight of Rohingya

Thursday, July 16, 2009
A TEENAGE Rohingya refugee has died in Thai custody, five months after he and dozens of fellow boat people were saved from abandonment at sea at the hands of the Thai Army.

Thai authorities yesterday revealed that Aubdul Salam, 18, died in hospital in the Thai-Burma border town of Ranong on June 30, having been held since January 26 by Thai Immigration officials.

It was a tragic final chapter to the short life of Salam, who arrived on Thai shores just days after the South China Morning Post revealed the Thai Army's secret policy of towing Rohingya boat people out to sea in unpowered boats.

Amid the ensuing international condemnation of the policy, which claimed hundreds of lives, Salam and his companions were instead transferred to civilian custody and processed via the Thai courts.

At the time it was hailed as a human rights victory. But the fate of 77 of Salam's boatmates still in Thai custody remains in doubt. All have served short sentences for illegal entry into Thailand, but no other country has expressed willingness to take them.

They are believed to have originated in Burma, where the Rohingya are subjected to systematic discrimination.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Nattarit Pinpak, Chief Inspector of Immigration in Ranong, said Salam had been sick for some time and suffered cardiac arrest at 8pm on June 30.

''We consulted local Muslims and the young man was buried with proper ceremony in Ranong's Muslim cemetery,'' he added.

''We did not notify his relatives because we have no knowledge of his family.''

Colonel Nattarit also revealed yesterday that 29 of the men were now claiming to be Bangladeshis and had been transferred to custody in Bangkok while their claims are investigated.

A spokesperson at the Bangladeshi Embassy confirmed that the claims of the men were under scrutiny. At the time of their detention, none of the men claimed Bangladeshi citizenship.

The embassy official said the youngest of the 29 was 14 years old, adding that it was possible that some were ethnic Rohingyas who had been born and raised in Bangladesh.

''They don't speak the language of Bangladesh,'' he said.

The condition of the boat people who remain in custody remains unclear, because Thai authorities have refused to grant access to them.

At the time of their arrival, however, they provided harrowing accounts of having been captured and tortured by the Burmese Army during their journey to Thailand, with some claiming to have been burned and beaten by the soldiers.

Several required hospital treatment for their injuries after they reached Ranong.

In an interview in May, Colonel Nattarit said the detained men were ''happy'' and being well looked after, and preferred being held in Thailand to being repatriated.

The people smuggler who owned the boat is believed to be one of the detained men.

Colonel Nattarit added that several of them spoke Thai, indicating that this was probably not their first attempt to start a new life in Malaysia or Thailand.

''Ranong province is like a door for people from Myanmar as they move in and out, looking for work,'' Colonel Nattarit said.

The fate of the Rohingya is likely to be raised by Indonesia at next week's Asean security forum for foreign ministers in Phuket, as they propose a human rights charter for Asean members.

Indonesia has been sympathetic to the plight of their fellow Muslim Rohingyas, hundreds of whom washed ashore in Indonesia after being cast adrift by the Thai army.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representatives from 26 other nations, including China, Japan, Russia, Australia and the European Union, are due to attend the Asean meetings.

First published in the South China Morning Post, July 16

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Comments

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'Several of them spoke Thai'. This does not surprise me. Many Burmese illegals were actually born here but not given status. They cannot speak Burmese

Posted by Andrew on July 16, 2009 14:35

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The level of Human Rights in Thailand is on par with its level of Democracy ... there simply isn't any.

Posted by Noddy on July 16, 2009 20:54


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