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Thai Navy arrest boat people: the Thai army organised the push-backs

Thailand's UN Pledge: No More Boat People Deaths

Thursday, April 16, 2009
Boat People Saga: Photo Album Above

THAILAND has reportedly undertaken never again to tow Rohingya boat people out to sea and abandon them, a brutal policy that led to the deaths of hundreds.

The promise has been made to the United Nations, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said yesterday at an international conference on people smuggling.

''That guarantee was clearly given to me twice by the minister of foreign affairs of Thailand,'' Mr Guterres told a correspondent for the South China Morning Post newspaper.

''I also think that what happened has been so shocking that it won't happen again.''

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pirom is known to have met surviving boat people in detention in the Thai-Burma border town of Ranong and talked to Burma's ruling junta about the future of the Rohingya.

But until Mr Guterres spoke yesterday following the biggest international meeting so far on the Rohingya, there had been no official acknowledgment that the so-called push-backs would cease.

Khun Kasit cancelled his proposed trip to the Bali conference because of the state of emergency triggered by protesters in Bangkok.

Reports in Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post in January first revealed the secret Thai island where hundreds of boat people were corralled behind barbed wire on a beach before being towed out to sea and left to drift.

Point-blank denials by the Thai army that the policy was in place became less strident once conclusive evidence of the practice and its outcomes was published.

Tourists even emailed holiday snapshots showing them sharing beautiful tropical island beaches with cowed boat people under military control.

Yesterday the Bali Process on Human Trafficking, a fledgling organisation involving some 75 nations, produced the first real signs of progress on behalf of the downtrodden Rohingya, whose abject plight had been overlooked, even by the UN, for decades.

In Thailand, it is understood that a Department of Special Investigations inquiry to pursue the people-smugglers is continuing, with Phuketwan journalists among those interviewed.

Corruption of officials in Burma-Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia has trapped thousands of Rohingya and other people from Buma-Myanmar and Bangladesh in a constant coastal cycle of arrest, attempted escape to a better life, and detention again.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the people smugglers are now looking to profit from the economic downturn because the situation pushes more people to migrate in search of work.

Australia and Indonesia co-chair the Bali Process on Human Trafficking, and Australia yesterday announced A$3.2 million in extra aid to the Rohingya.

The outcome of the gathering is likely to hearten non-government organisations working with illegal migrants all along the Andaman Sea coast.

In Malaysia, Phuketwan was told recently, Rohingya caught by officials receive six mandatory strokes of a whip before being detained for between three and six months, then returned to the so-called ''revolving door'' of the human trafficking trade.

Those who are fortunate enough to escape sustain local economies in the Thai coastal provinces of Ranong, Phang Nga and Phuket, where retailers in the holiday centre of Patong largely depend on cheap Burmese labor.

The irony is that disclosure of the secret island and the covert push-backs by the Thai army or specially trained local paramilitary has done what the army wanted to do: stop the Rohingya from coming to Thailand.

The push-backs, which began in secret in early December, are believed to have ended within six weeks, once international media attention sparked condemnation of the policy.

It is hoped that acknowledgment by officials from Burma-Myanmar who attended the Bali Process meeting will lead to a dramatic improvement in the lives of the boat people.

However, other reports said that a solution may remain elusive as long as Burma-Myanmar continues to deny that Rohingya are its citizens or acknowledge they have been persecuted.

Interest in Thailand now centres on the future of 78 Rohingya. held in detention in Ranong since January, awaiting the outcome of the Bali Process.

The 78 were the first Rohingya detained and processed in the normal way after Phuketwan and the SCMP revealed the covert process on Sai Daeng island and Thailand's short-lived push-back policy.

Action has yet to be taken against those who introduced the policy and others who carried it out.

All the photographs in the Photo Album with this article were supplied willingly by the Royal Thai Navy, the Marine Police and local police. They carried out standard procedure in arresting and detaining boat people before handing them over to the army.

Human Trafficking: Suffocation, or Solution?
LatestDesperation drives Rohingya, Burmese and others into the hands of human traffickers, putting their lives on the line. The Bali Process this week may provide answers that Thailand needs.
Human Trafficking: Suffocation, or Solution?

Phuket's New Rohingya: Bought from a Smuggler
Latest Phuket's community of Rohingya is small but growing. The latest arrivals have been purchased from a people smuggler in a humanitarian effort by a poor Muslim community.
Phuket's New Rohingya: Bought from a Smuggler

Boat People Update: DSI Pursues Traffickers
Latest People smugglers have now become the centre of an investigation by Thailand's DSI, best known on Phuket for their property title probes. Top level talks are taking place on the Rohingya.
Boat People Update: DSI Pursues Traffickers

Update: PM Admits Boat People Towed to Sea
Latest Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says he believes there were 'instances' of Rohingya boats being pushed out to sea. The word 'atrocities' is used in a headline.
Update: PM Admits Boat People Towed to Sea

More Boat People Arrested, Army Not Involved
Latest Update A change in thinking seems to have been applied to the latest Rohingya arrest of 78 boat people off the Andaman tourist coast. They are in police custody and scheduled to appear in court.
More Boat People Arrested, Army Not Involved

Boat People in Thailand: Phuketwan Reports
Fresh Tourist Snapshots The torment of the Rohingya boat people was brought to the world's attention by Phuketwan. Now we look forward to Thailand restoring its good reputation.
Boat People in Thailand: Phuketwan Reports

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