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Overseen by an armed officer, Rohingya are ''helped on'' off Phuket today

Rohingya 'Helped On' Off Phuket: Photo Special

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
PHUKET: We intercepted the Rohingya after about 70 bumpy minutes on a speedboat, banging into swells south from Phuket through the Andaman's prime tourist playground.

The Thai Navy was there first, on a tender close to Racha Noi island, loading water and food onto the flimsy vessel. There were 205 men and boys on board, packed solid.

While the sea all around was alive with pleasure vessels, diving and snorkelling voyagers, big game fishing trekkers, day-trippers taking in the scenery, these Rohingya boats . . . well, they make you weep.

This one was different from the previous one that reached Phuket on January 1 with men, women and children on board. Families fleeing persecution.

Today's boat was longer, if anything more crowded, and it contained only men and boys. And they were, it seemed, out of luck.

While other boats have recently been intercepted and their occupants taken ashore, these men and boys were being ''helped on.''

This means the Thai Navy assists with extra water and food, plus fuel if necessary, and ushers the would-be refugees in the direction of ''a third country.''

I've seen Rohingya at sea before, as well as in police cells, hobbling towards the entrance of a Thai jail . . . and now, being ''helped on''.

All the talk going on in Bangkok about the future of these people fades in meaning alongside the images of this boat, bobbing on an irridescent blue, broad sea.

To go to sea packed into a boat like this, you have to be desperate. You have to be in fear of something more frightening than the deep blue ocean. You have to be willing to cast your fate to the wind.

It is mesmerising to see this. The men, overlooked by an officer with a gun, taking what they are given, prepared to journey on towards whatever may lie over the horizon.

Once the transfer of food and water is complete, the Rohingya are on their own again. There is a round of applause, a handclap for the Navy.

The boats part, pointed in dramatically different directions. We aim our speedboat back towards Phuket and the tourists' paradise.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Very comendable journalism. The pictures are incredible too.
So we live in a tourism paradise, and what can those who've gotten rich off the tourism here do to help these poor people's plight? Or is it all in the hands of Thailand's government?

Posted by Jake on January 29, 2013 19:12


A sad situation for these people. I guess we should be happy the Navy didn't capture them then sell them as slaves like others are doing?

Posted by NomadJoe on January 29, 2013 19:48


ED. You should receive a prize for your efforts on creating awareness for the Rohingya. I went to Koh Kaew the other day to donate dried foods, soap etc. It's such a horrible situation. Friends and family members have emailed embassies and NGO's multiple times but hardly any responses.

Posted by Richard on January 29, 2013 22:11


38 years after the boat people from Vietnam, those pictures are terrifying; inaceptable !

Posted by serge on January 29, 2013 22:24


Heartbreaking indeed, but your diligent reporting needs to continue and I commend your efforts thus far. Where is the UN and why is ASEAN not putting more DAILY pressure on the dictatorship of Burma to improve conditions in their own country? This is the root of the problem and the suffering and we all need to not lose sight of this fact. With the limited recent changes in Burma, everybody seems to sucking-up to these dictators and praising them to these initial (and yes, very important) steps, but there is clearly so much more to do and this fact is highlighted but the Rohingya's continued misery and deaths at sea.

Please keep up the great reporting!

David Stonham

Posted by David Stonham on January 30, 2013 02:05


PhuketWan has done an outstanding job in raising the plight of the Rohingya to not just people in Thailand but also globally.

At the same time it has more than adequately peeled away the veneer that Aung San Suu Kyi is a genuine human rights activist, exposing her for the opportunistic hi-so Burman waiting to claim what she perceives as her birthright that she really is.

ASSKs silence on the Rohingya, along with other ongoing conflicts between the Burmans and ethnic groups in Myanmar show how much the world has been sucked in over the years by her.

Posted by John on January 30, 2013 07:17


What I don't understand is surely they should be able to have citizenship of a country by birth or decent, you said previoulsy they have been in Burma for decades and if not can they get a Bangladeshi passport? I guess not but why. Also are there so many no country wants to open for a few as they worry then they will have to take so many. Ed (Al) sometimes you can be a little awkward but I see you have a warm heart for people less fortunate.

Posted by Happy Farang on January 30, 2013 10:33

Editor Comment:

National borders dictate where people have citizenship, Happy Farang, not ethnicity. In 1982, Burma removed the rights to citizenship of the Rohingya who had lived in the country for hundreds of years. One day, Rohingya children went to local schools. The next they were stateless and without rights. We just report what happens, as free from emotion as possible.


Another fine piece of journalism. Don't let up.

Posted by Graham on January 30, 2013 14:40



How can you be negative about a lady that has achieved so much not just for Burma but the region - do you really think all these people are fools to give her recognition. She also stayed in Burma when her husband died as she was worried the govt would not let her back in. Negative thinkers like you make me sick, look at how much she has achieved not knock her on one topic - Suu Kyi received the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simon Bolivar Prize from the government of Venezuela. In 2007, the Government of Canada made her an honorary citizen of that country,[12] the fourth person ever to receive the honour.[13] In 2011, she was awarded the Wallenberg Medal.[14] On 19 September 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was also presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.[15]------Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 which was later found to be terminal. Despite appeals from prominent figures and organisations, including the United States, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II, the Burmese government would not grant Aris a visa, saying that they did not have the facilities to care for him, and instead urged Aung San Suu Kyi to leave the country to visit him. She was at that time temporarily free from house arrest but was unwilling to depart, fearing that she would be refused re-entry if she left, as she did not trust the military junta's assurance that she could return.[34]

Posted by Happy Farang on January 30, 2013 17:23

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