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The kind of vessel that the Rohingya use to make their voyages

Thailand Lists Boatpeople Arrested or Assisted Along Phuket Holiday Coast

Sunday, March 18, 2012
PHUKET: The Thai military appears to have taken the unusual step of revealing that almost 5000 Rohingya boatpeople have been arrested or ''helped on'' to other destinations beyond the Phuket-Andaman coast of Thailand since November last year.

The revelation came from Colonel Manat Kongpan, commander of Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command, Fourth Region, in an interview with Thai media today.

Until Colonel Manat revealed the figures, the numbers of boatpeople apprehended on Thailand's coast and intercepted at sea had been unknown. Human rights organisations, having questioned how Thailand was dealing with Rohingya boatpeople, are likely to welcome today's move - and ask more questions.

The figures appear to not include a boatload of about 100 Rohingya who were apprehended on the holiday island of Phuket last month. This may be because local police on Phuket chose to record the boatpeople as Burmese, even though they employed a translator who spoke the Rohingya language, Arakanese, to interview the men and boys.

The Rohingya, among the most downtrodden people in the world, set sail in perilous voyages from their homeland in northern Burma (Myanmar) or refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship in Burma and oppressed.

Persecution of the Rohingyas continues despite Burma's recent acceptance of ''democracy'' and a more open approach to other reforms.

Many Rohingya pay people traffickers to sail seeking a better life in Muslim majority Malaysia, voyaging past Thailand in primitive vessels without no navigational aids or knowledge of coastal landmarks.

Mostly they put to shore wherever they happen to be, whenever food and water run out.

According to Colonel Manat in talking to Thai media today, there have been 32 arrests of Rohingya boats along Thailand's Phuket-Andaman coast since November and another 25 cases where the boatpeople were ''helped on'' to other destinations beyond Thailand.

The arrests by Thai military and police involved 2490 men and boys and the ''help-ons'' totalled another 2522 Rohingya, Colonel Manat told the Thai media.

The colonel said Rohingya arriving in Thailand were being treated as illegal immigrants.

Those intercepted at sea were interviewed, told that if they did not continue they would face arrest, and where necessary given support to sail on in the form of fuel, medical assistance and food and water for 15 days.

The sailing season for Rohingya usually extends from November through to April, when monsoon conditions make voyages too perilous.

As well as ''helping on'' 2522 people in 25 vessels to destinations outside Thailand, Isoc worked with the Royal Thai Navy, Marine Police and paramilitary along the coast of the northern provinces of Ranong and Phang Nga in arresting 2490 illegal arrivals.

What's not made plain in today's reports is what happened to the apprehended Rohingya after their arrests. It's also not clear whether, as some rights groups allege, Rohingya who land in southern Thailand are covertly handed over to people smugglers to help them reach Malaysia.

If Colonel Manat's figures are correct, this this sailing season's tally is the largest number of Rohingya to be apprehended or intercepted since 2007-2008, when almost 5000 boatpeople were arrested in Thailand.

That large number of would-be refugees prompted Thailand to briefly adopt the secret ''pushbacks'' policy in the following sailing season of 2008-2009, when hundreds of Rohingya were assembled in captivity on an island off Thailand's coast, then towed out to international waters and ''pushed back.''

Survivors revealed on reaching Indonesia and India that hundreds of others had perished.

The ''pushbacks'' policy was abandoned soon after Phuketwan journalists working with the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong revealed the existance of the island, the secret policy and its tragic consequences.

At the time, Colonel Manat denied knowledge of the secret island or the ''pushbacks'' process until the South China Morning Post published a photograph of him on the island.

Hundreds of the Rohingya pushed out to sea from Thailand in 2009 were last reported to be still being held in detention in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Because the new ''elected'' Burmese government is as reluctant to grant the Rohingya citizenship as the old Burmese junta, Thailand and other neighboring nations have nowhere to officially send the boatpeople who choose to flee constant repression.

Comments

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Oi ED what happened to my comment? Too sensitive I guess?

Posted by Dun on March 19, 2012 21:07

Editor Comment:

''Oi'' is a popular Thai nickname.

Your previous four comments have been published. The seven before that were not published. You may assume there were good reasons for not publishing in each case.


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