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Koh Sai Dang (Red Sand Island) is where the Army holds Rohingya

Phuketwan Voyages to Secret Exile Island

Saturday, January 10, 2009
THE ISLAND off the Andaman tourist coast where Thailand is secretly keeping unwanted boat people looms out of the sea like a classic tropical isle.

Locals call it Koh Sai Dang (Red Sand island) but the only small stretch of beach looks golden, the color that attracts visitors to popular holiday spots around this region.

Convenience is probably why the Army chose it for their covert operation. It's not that far from the regional HQ.

And the jungle growth that covers Red Sand island, all the way up its central cone shape, seems capable of hiding hundreds of unwanted Rohingya, the Muslim boat people who have been sailing south by the hundreds.

Their arrival has had Thai authorities concerned to the point where the Rohingya, apprehended on land or in Thai waters, are now being taken out to sea and left to paddle home.

It's little wonder that the Thai Army denies it is holding Rohingya.

Even if the unwelcome migration does present a security threat, as the Army claims, that kind of treatment is less than civilised and morally repugnant.

It probably also contravenes international law, which accounts for the secrecy.

On December 18, we have learned from reliable sources, a total of 412 unwanted Rohingya were taken out to international waters north of Surin island and left to their own devices.

That December release brought to about 800 the number of Rohingya who have been turned back in this fashion since the Army became involved late last year, one informant told us.

According to our sources, as of January 9, there were about 80 Rohingya still being held on Red Sand island.

The Army has bought two vessels locally in expectation that the flow of unwanted boat people will continue through to April, bringing thousands to Thailand, as it did last year.

In coastal villages in the northern Andaman province of Ranong, Phuketwan quickly found clues that the Rohingya had been arriving in numbers.

At one village, a blue vessel stood on the muddy low-tide banks. With its high curves fore and aft, it was clearly not a traditional Thai fishing boat.

Villagers told us that it had been sailed to Thailand by Rohingya from Bangladesh, where many of the voyages originate. Another flatter vessel also used by the Rohingya sat nearby.

The next day, on our way to Red Sand island, we passed several hulks in the mangroves and along the shores. We were told these vessels had been sailed to the region by Rohingya.

We circled Red Sand island and saw a large hulk on the beach, another Rohingya vessel. As we watched, a group of men whom we were told were soldiers jumped from a boat onto the sand.

There were no buildings to be seen on the island, only jungle. Our sources told us that the Rohingya are kept in rough shelters and fed well until they recover from their exhausting journey south.

Then the Army takes them back out to sea, and releases them.

Numbers of Rohingya apprehended in Thai waters or along the coast have been growing rapidly.

Coming while seas are safer in November to April (the tourism high season), latest arrival numbers for the Rohingya are: in 2005-6, 1225; in 2006-7, 2763; in 2007-8, 4886.

Between November 26 and December 25 last year, a total of 659 Rohingya were apprehended in eight separate incidents.

On December 28, 94 Rohingya were arrested by police in Phang Nga province, south of Ranong.

On December 29, another 91 were taken by marine police. On January 2, they apprehended another 71.

To get to Red Sand island, we journeyed through a mangrove thicket and out into coastal waters. The region is dotted with many islands, most of them uninhabited or with one or two families occupying them.

Red Island lies not far from Koh Sai Dam (Black Sand island) which is home to a community of 100 families and includes a mosque and a school.

A little further away lies the larger island of Phayam, an increasingly popular tourist destination, dotted with resorts and bungalows.

Some visitors, it seems, are welcome along this beautiful stretch of the Thai coast. But the Rohingya, impoverished and desperate? Definitely not.

Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed
Photo Album
Concern is increasing about the manner in which Rohingya are being secretly turned back to sea off Thailand after first being detained on an Andaman island
Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed

In Pictures: Arrest of the Rohingya

Photo Special: Phuket Navy Holds Burmese Muslims
Photo Exclusive
The first astonishing photos of hundreds of Burmese Rohingya attempting to enter Thai waters are on Phuketwan now, as chronicled by the Royal Thai Navy.
Photo Special: Phuket Navy Holds Burmese Muslims

'Starving' Boatloads: Phuket Call for UN Action
World Exclusive
Hundreds of hungry boat people are being apprehended north of Phuket, prompting a call for United Nations intervention. Phuketwan exposes the Andaman's serious human rights issue, the Rohingya.
'Starving' Boatloads: Phuket Call for UN Action

Burmese in Thailand: Essential Reading

Exile Island Plan: 200 Burmese in Jail

Crackdown on Burmese as Arrest Numbers Grow

54 Burmese Found Dead in Phuket Bound Container

Deathship Burmese Muslims Forced Back to Border

Andaman Island Sites Readied for Boat People

Burmese Detention Island Cause for Concern

Water and Fire: A Tsunami Reunion


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Good luck on your voyage. Here in the Philippines, a group of individuals will start a history voyage using an ancient boat. The boat is being called the Balangay boat. You may visit our website for more information on the voyage that will start this September 1st.

Posted by Balangay Voyage on August 26, 2009 18:16

Thursday May 30, 2024
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