OFFICIALS at Phuket Immigration today rejected reports that 38 men being held at the Phuket City headquarters had escaped. ''They are still here,'' an officer said. ''But we believe some have escaped from the family centre.''
PHUKET: Figures published today claim that of 71 Rohingya boatpeople being held on Phuket, all except one have now escaped from custody.
The exodus of women and children from a Phuket family shelter has previously been reported but the 'Bangkok Post' adds today that 37 of 38 male Rohingya being held at Phuket Immigration HQ cells in Phuket City have now disappeared.
An earlier group of Rohingya being held at Phuket Immigration in Phuket City also disappeared, one reliable source has previously told Phuketwan.
Escape from Phuket Immigration cells would be unlikely unless at least two cell doors had been left unlocked. Nothing has been said officially about an escape from Phuket Immigration, reported today with a list of Rohingya in Thailand compiled by the Muslim humanitarian groups.
According to the groups, there have also been four deaths in custody among the 2018 Rohingya ''rescued'' from trafficking camps near the Thai-Malaysia border or apprehended on boats off Thailand in January.
The Rohingya are being held at 24 different centres and refuges throughout Thailand as officials continue to puzzle over what to do with them. A six-month deadline on a decision about their future expires in three weeks.
All of the Rohingya originally expected to pass through Thailand in a few days. Now their future is unclear. With Ramadan approaching, concerns are mounting for their health and morale.
Families remain separated. If anything, authorities in Burma appear to be taking a more repressive attitude towards Rohingya in Burma's Rakine state, with record numbers likely to be forced into the sea from October, when the safe ''sailing season'' begins again.
The rounding up of the Rohingya in Thailand in January interrupted the covert trafficking that had seen thousands of boatpeople pass overland to Malaysia with fees of up to 50,000 baht per person being split between the people smugglers and officials.
A rape and abduction case now being investigated north of Phuket has highlighted the possible involvement of local police or Thai military in the trafficking process.
North of Phuket along the coast of Phang Nga province, it's common knowledge that some villagers with connections to Rohingya have grown rich over recent years as scores of Rohingya boats have landed in Thailand or been apprehended off the coast.
The Royal Thai Navy has certainly ''helped on'' many boats towards Malaysia with gifts of food and water, but other branches of the military or renegade sailors have also been accused of trading Rohingya to traffickers.
Phang Nga and Ranong, the province to the north, are spotted with uninhabited islands where it's possible to hold large groups of people without detection for days or even weeks.
In the past week, for the first time in Thailand, a man in uniform has been accused of being involved with trafficking Rohingya boatpeople.
Three Rohingya women and two children claim they were abducted from a Khao Lak shelter in May, with a local policeman at the wheel of the getaway pickup.
One woman and her two children say they were taken to Yeepon island, about 15 minutes by speedboat off the coast from the fishing port of Kuraburi.
The woman says she was first raped at knifepoint in the only house on the island, then raped twice more in successive nights by a suspected trafficker, Korlimula Ramahatu, 26.
Documents relating to the case against the policeman, Senior Sergeant Veerayut Ferngfull, will be forwarded soon to Bangkok for a decision at senior level about whether he should be thrown out of the force or jailed, or both.
The two children, girls aged 12 and nine, are to be interviewed by a panel of people - with particular care for the well-being of the children - on Friday in Phang Nga.
Phuketwan has learned that Senior Sergeant Veerayut was a member of the Marine Police in Kuraburi before transferring to the local police nearby, working at stations in Khao Lak and Thai Muang.
It has also now been established that Yeepon island is also known by another name, Ra island. Phuketwan's own records of the recent arrivals of Rohingya boats along the Andaman coast show that six vessels arrived at Ra island in January.
The house where the Rohingya woman says she was raped - one of only two buildings on the island - has large dormitory sized rooms capable of housing boatloads of people temporarily.
While many of the Rohingya leave Rakhine state in Burma (Myanmar) in flimsy vessels, it's believed communications with traffickers have become more sophisticated over time.
The fact that so many boats were discovered so quickly once the word went out that Rohingya were no longer to be ''helped on'' is a clear indication that a covert trafficking route had been clearly established north of Phuket.
The involvement of the military or local police has yet to be proven, although Andaman coast villagers and Rohingya in Malaysia are adamant that uniformed officials have been paid by traffickers by the boatload.
With senior officers continuing to refuse to even consider an independent investigation, Phang Nga's Provincial Police Commander, major General Chalit Keawyarat, told Phuketwan this week that the rape and abduction investigation was ''a small case.''
He said he could not understand the level of involvement of NGOs and ''foreign'' media and said that journalists from Thai outlets had shown little interest.