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No going back: the flimsy Rohingya boat is smashed to pieces today

Hungry, Thirsty and Deprived, Phuket's Silent Boatpeople Demand Answers from the World

Sunday, February 26, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: The 100 or so Rohingya men and boys who washed up on a Phuket beach this morning reached out for food and water, delivered by Phuket police and some generous Phuket women.

It was clear they were thirsty and hungry after 12 days at sea, packed tight in a pathetically small open boat.

Once described by a Burmese diplomat as ''looking like ogres,'' up close the boatpeople turn out to be precisely what they are: normal people whose lives are tormented and miserable for no good reason.

Over the course of the morning, with the waves destroying their vessel in the shallows at Nai Harn beach on Phuket's southern coast, Phuket's newly arrived Rohingya were rounded up.

Some of them are barefoot. Some are dressed in rags. All of them have nothing.

The irony is that while the boatpeople are among the most deprived and oppressed people in the world, Phuket remains a holiday haven for the world's well-off and rich.

Spectacularly luxurious cruisers and speedboats crisscross these same waters. Just a couple of weeks back, the $300 million plaything of a Russian billionaire headed towards Burma from Phuket on a no-doubt pleasurable voyage.

Heading south at the same time are hundreds of Rohingya, some too young to be risking their lives. Three 13-year-old boys were among the group apprehended on Phuket today, along with a 14-year-old.

And their vessel? Made of timber, it was quickly breaking up at Nai Harn beach as tourists looked on. How do so many people manage to squeeze into such a small vessel, and survive?

The answer is, they don't always. For every three boats that make it to Thailand or Malaysia, at least one capsizes. Can the Rohingya who came ashore on Phuket today all swim? We didn't get the chance to ask.

People with attitudes like that of the Burmese diplomat are now presenting themselves to the world as changed people. They are no longer dictators, not even generals. The world is suitably impressed.

Yet in Burma, nothing has changed for the Rohingya. Stateless, denied citizenship even if they and their parents were born in Burma, there is no prospect of a return for these men.

We watched them being processed, their names taken and forms filled in both at Chalong Police Station and in Phuket City, at the Immigration offices where home will temporarily be a rudimentary cell.

The cell is too small to hold more than about 35 or 40 prisoners, and even that number crowds captivity beyond a few days.

When the last Rohingya vessel landed on Phuket about a year ago, the occupants - about 65 men and boys - were split between Phuket and Phang Nga Immigration centres.

To this day, what eventually happened to them remains a mystery. We saw the prisoners on a security camera at Immigration once, praying, as good Muslims do, despite their primitive surroundings.

After a few months, the Phuket cells returned to being empty. Where did they go? Where will the latest captive men and boys go?

There is no space in detention cells in Thailand for the hundreds of Rohingya who continue to sail south, despite the risks.

The likelihood is that these men and boys, even though they number about 100, will simply vanish one day. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a couple of weeks or months.

They will either be trucked north to the border with Burma, and tacitly handed over to people smugglers there, or taken south for a similar assignation close to the Thai-Malaysia border.

Even as that happens, other Rohingya will be preparing to stake their lives on voyages in boats that are barely capable of staying afloat.

Such is the lot of the Rohingya, the ''ogres'' of the new, acceptable Burma. Isn't it about time the world woke up?


Comments have been disabled for this article.


A very poignant and well written report of the facts. The more stories like this that find their way into the world press the better is the hope of salvation for these poor disadvantaged folk.

Don't be put off by the naysayers, keep up the good work.

Posted by innocent bystander on February 26, 2012 19:29


not many of my friends feel sorry for this illeigal people! i like to pay low tax, why should we thai people take care of this people? let the ritch falang take care of them if you want them here, i dont want to pay more tax! or send them to Malysia!


Posted by ????????????????????? on February 26, 2012 19:31


Ogres? OGRES! The comment from the Burmese 'diplomat' are monstrous. Of course they look like ogres after 12 days at sea in an open boat under the blazing sun. I hope they don't just disappear. I hope that maybe Malaysia will take them. Or the more Muslim areas of southern Thailand.

Posted by Mr Man on February 26, 2012 20:22

Editor Comment:

No room at your place?


I don't think you are quite right regarding the Rohinga as Myanmar citizens. They were originally illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to move back due to the border area of Myanmar being more profitable than the Bangladesh area they originated.
They would be entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship however are trying to travel to Malaysia for economic reasons and the hope to be accepted by countries such as Australia for refugee status.
Refugee status for Myanmar citizens, and also Rohingya, will be greatly reduced once sanctions etc are removed so expect many more Rohingya coming past Phuket for economic reasons.

Posted by Jimmy on February 26, 2012 21:29

Editor Comment:

The Burmese government makes that claim, Jimmy, to justify its policy of ethnic cleansing. Rohingya have lived in Burma for hundreds of years - possibly 700 years, according to some authorities. If they are Bangladeshis, then why does the Bangladesh government treat them as refugees from Burma? It's a plain case of discrimination because the Rohingya are so different to other residents. The restrictions on their daily lives and the appalling treatment by the Burmese government are what forces them into boats. Their dream is about escape from persecution. The phrase ''for economic reasons'' seems to be an excuse some find easier to accept, especially those who want to befriend Burma ''for economic reasons.''


Wow, Tussanee. You sound like the stereotype of a heartless person. Saying, "let the ritch falang take care of them if you want them here," makes you sound like a very, very small person.

Posted by Relic on February 27, 2012 22:20

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