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Cambodian detainees assemble at Phuket Immigration's jail area in late 2010

Phuket Immigration Denies Rohinga 'Repatriation'

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
IMMIGRATION authorities on Phuket have rejected reports that a boatload of Rohingya apprehended on the popular holiday island are being ''prepared for repatriation.''

International news agency AFP today quotes unnamed ''police'' as making this claim. However, Thai police have no authority to repatriate illegal arrivals.

Police do sometimes make arrests, but they always hand over their captives to Immigration authorities.

During the inhumane pushbacks of 2008-2009, in which hundreds of boatpeople perished at sea, Rohingya were briefly handed over to the Army's Internal Security Operations Command.

Phuket Immigration Superintendent Colonel Panuwat Ruamrak said today: ''We have 68 Rohingya but there has been no discussion as to what will happen next. So far, we have an incomplete picture of who they are.

''We have recorded their names, taken fingerprints, and checked their health. More interviews will follow, and then we will discuss with senior departmental officers in Bangkok what the appropriate course of action should be.''

The would-be refugees waded ashore at a Phuket beach alongside a five-star resort about 11pm on Monday. Their arrival brings to 226 the number of would-be refugees who have landed along the Andaman coast of southern Thailand on three boats in the past eight days.

The sudden influx has created an accommodation crisis - the main detention centre for 1500 in Bangkok is full and a second detention centre in the Thai-Burma border port of Ranong only has space for 300.

However, a group of Rohingya who arrived in Thailand two years ago are still among those being held in detention in Bangkok.

If Rohingya who arrive in Thailand are to be repatriated, then this group would logically lead the way. Where precisely they would be repatriated to presents a major obstacle.

The Rohingya are not considered to be citizens of Burma by the ruling junta.

Human rights organisations have been requesting access to the latest groups of would-be refugees, without success.

AFP quotes the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, as saying: "The persecution of Rohingyas in Burma (Myanmar) is atrocious, but the Thai government continues to pretend that they are no different from any other undocumented migrant."

There are two cells at Phuket Immigration in Phuket City, one for males and one for females. Usually, officials wait for numbers of arrested illegal Burmese to build then truck those groups to Ranong.

Holding a sizeable group of would-be refugees for more than a few days will interfere with standard processes for handling and processing the illegal Burmese among Phuket's population of an estimated 200,000 legal and illegal Burmese workers.

The rudimentary Phuket City Immigration cells were constructed with perhaps a maximum of 30 prisoners in mind.
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