Thailand and RefugeesBy Bangkok Pundit Jan 15, 2009 12:00AM UTC
Have previously blogged on Hmong and North Korean refugees coming to Thailand, but SCMP has a new story (note: SCMP is subscription only so obtaining text from alternative sources) about Muslims from Burma which is shocking:
Thailand’s army is secretly detaining boatpeople on an island in the Andaman Sea, before towing them into international waters and abandoning them with only paddles, sources involved in the process said. [BP: Sounds similiar to something that happened under a certain PM in the 80s]The army officially denies holding any Rohingya – Muslims who come from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh – who sail for Southeast Asia at this time of year by the hundreds.But Ranong provincial governor Wanchart Wongchaichana said all Rohingya who arrive in the area are turned over to the army.“Rohingya arrested along all the Andaman coast provinces are sent to Internal Security. Go and talk to Colonel Manat [Khongpan],” he said, referring to the regional chief of a controversial army unit, the Internal Security Operations Command.The Thai navy, local police and marine police also referred queries about the fate of the Rohingya to the army. Sources in all three services said they now transported any detained Rohingya to Ranong and hand them over to the army. Previously, they were handed over to immigration officials.The sources include officers who were present at Rohingya handovers to the army.However, Colonel Manat denied having Rohingya in custody. “If I see Rohingya, I will arrest them and hand them to the police. The army does not have Rohingya,” he said, before switching off his mobile phone.Local sources, including some who said they were recruited by the army to help in the repatriation, said the boatpeople are held on Thailand’s Koh Sai Daeng, or Red Sand Island, before being taken out to sea.The fate of the Rohingya is increasingly being discussed in regional diplomatic circles, amid reports of them also reaching Indonesia, Malaysia, and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.The subject is expected to be raised at next month’s Asean summit in Thailand.…A source who said he had worked as a liaison between the army and the Rohingya during the repatriation process said that on Dec 18, a total of 412 boatpeople had been taken to international waters north of Koh Surin (Surin Island) then left there.That 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, the source said.According to local fishermen involved in moving the men, about 80 Rohingya were still being held on Koh Sai Daeng as of last Friday.“To arrest people when they enter Thai waters then release them in international waters, without motors or sails, would clearly be a violation of international human rights,” said Chris Lewa, a Bangkok-based social worker who is seeking better treatment for the…Even if the unwelcome migration does present a security threat, as the army claims, the way the Rohingya are treated may contravene international law, Lewa said.Thai authorities have long been concerned about the arrival of large numbers of Rohingya, fearing some of them may head south to join the long-running Muslim insurgency.In March last year, then prime minister Samak Sundaravej asked the navy to find a suitable island on which to detain the Rohingya. [BP: See here]But the idea of holding them in such a facility met outcry from human rights advocates and was supposedly shelved.At the time, military chief Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit said of the Rohingya sneaking in to Thailand: “The graph is rising and it is worrying, and we have to try to solve the problem.”Rohingya usually arrive in Thailand from November to April, while seas are at their calmest.According to official figures, in 2005-2006, 1,225 arrived in Thailand; in 2006-2007, there were 2,763. In 2007-2008, there were 4,886. From Nov 26 to Dec 25 last year, 659 Rohingya were detained in eight separate incidents.
Dozens of Rohingya refugees were beaten and detained for hours by the Thai Navy on an Andaman Sea tourist island, in scenes that unfolded in full view of foreign holidaymakers.Photographs of the December 23 incident in the Similan Islands were captured by Hong Kong-based tourist Andrew Jones.Mr Jones, whose name has been changed for the purposes of this article, described how guards armed with M-16 rifles forced the refugees to lie face down in the sand for at least two hours, then ”whipped” them about the head with a strap if they tried to sit up or move. The refugees were naked to the waist and bound at their wrists.Some tourists appeared oblivious to the scenes just metres away, continuing to snorkel and sunbathe. Others who were shocked by the treatment of the men and tried to photograph the incident had their cameras snatched away by angry guards, who deleted the images.”Some of them [the refugees] were trying to sit up and looked like they were complaining, but they were answered with a whip on the back and head,” said Mr Jones, a 23-year-old Australian student who is living with his parents on Hong Kong’s Gold Coast.”One of them was dragged to the shade – not looking like he was in good shape – where he lay for the rest of our time there. This had an effect on the others, who complained, but they were then hit with the whip.”The ”whip” described by Mr Jones appears to have been some sort of strap, while other guards used makeshift lashes fashioned from stiff jungle vines.Two other witnesses have corroborated Mr Jones version of events.Thai officials have confirmed that the Thai Navy apprehended a group of 93 Rohingya boatpeople on December 23, and took them to the island of Koh Baed for processing. The Royal Thai Navy refused to comment immediately on the incident, saying that all questions had to be submitted in writing first.…”A few of the tourists moved closer, to take photos. The guards armed with guns signalled them to stay away. People who got too close had their cameras taken and their photos deleted.”They had their hands on their rifles. We knew that they meant business. It was scary.”The refugees were still laying face down in the sand at 3pm when Mr Jones’ group departed. He said that a yachtsman who had been watching the incident told him the refugees had been detained on the beach for five hours by that stage. The fate of the group is not known.Refugee International, a Washington-based advocacy group, criticised the Thai military’s treatment of Rohingya refugees this week, saying that the policy of sending them back to sea was a contravention of international standards and law.Rohingya who arrived in Thailand were previously handed over to immigration authorities for processing. However, sources in the Ranong provincial government, police, navy and marine police all said that since late last year, all Rohingya were handed over to the army.