Burmese Rohingya refugees accuse Thailand of towing them out to sea
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Burmese Rohingya refugees accuse Thailand of towing them out to sea


More than 90 Rohingya refugees have been found by police in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands.

All of them were starving and seriously dehydrated, police said; 25 have been admitted to hospital.

The refugees told police they had been set adrift with little food and water in a boat without an engine by the Thai navy. Thailand has denied the charge.

“We found them in villages in the Car Nicobar islands, where they were desperately searching for food and water,” police officer George Lalu told the BBC in a telephone interview from the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The Rohingyas said they were trying to enter Malaysia illegally through Thailand with the help of “agents” before they were caught by the Thai navy, he said.

Doctors at the hospital told the BBC they had been at sea without food and water for more than a week.

In a statement recorded by the police in Car Nicobar, one of the refugees said they were kept in a dark room with minimum food for about a week.

After that, they said, they were set adrift in open sea in an engine-less boat with minimal rations and water.

They say more of their people may be on the high seas, drifting around in boats without engines and with no food or water,” said Mr Lalu.

Thai authorities have denied that they have forced any of the Rohingyas onto the high sea in engine-less boats.

They said they had “intercepted” a group of 91 Rohingyas in Songkhla province in early January.

“But we deported them after proper formalities,” said a Thai official in Songkhla.

BP: In case there is any doubt about the process for deporting them, see MCOT on January 23, 2011:

Thai officials on Sunday deported 91 Rohingya boat people who reportedly fled Myanmar’s harsh military rulers and landed in Kantang district, sending them back to their homeland, a senior Thai official said.

They would be sent back by boat to Myanmar, he said.

“Although it’s against humanitarian grounds, the illegal entry of foreigners must come under the (Thai) legal framework. This is to prevent a similar problem from occurring again in future,” Mr Visit said.

BP: In case you were thinking, doesn’t this sound familiar. Well, it should because the same thing happened in December 2008/January 2009* when the Thai Navy towed out hundreds of Rohingya boat people, often after removing their motors and the result was that about 500 were missing believed drowned. Rohingyas also popped up in 2010 although again we had Thai denials on their treatment. How many more Rohingyas have been towed out to sea and left with little food and water? Were their engines removed this time?

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on February 2, 2011. An excerpt is below:

Thailand should immediately allow the United Nations refugee agency unhindered access to 211 detained ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers to determine whether they qualify for refugee status, Human Rights Watch said today.

A group of 158 Rohingyas from Burma arrived in Thailand on January 22 and 23, 2011, after a perilous sea voyage in rickety, overcrowded boats. They joined 53 others detained since 2009 in the Thai immigration detention system. The Thai authorities have repeatedly refused to give the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the detainees.

“The persecution of Rohingyas in Burma is atrocious, but the Thai government continues to pretend that they are no different from any other undocumented migrant,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thailand should reverse course and immediately allow UNHCR to interview all detained Rohingya to identify those seeking refugee status.”

Thailand’s response to the Rohingya contrasts sharply with Malaysia’s, where the authorities allowed UNHCR to visit and assess the cases of 93 detained Rohingya whose boat was intercepted in March 2010. UNHCR concluded that all were refugees. The Malaysian authorities released them from immigration detention.

“As a new member of the UN Human Rights Council, Thailand should be spearheading regional efforts to protect refugees rather than detaining them,” Adams said. “If Malaysia can comply with international refugee protection standards, why can’t Thailand?”

BP:  Am wondering, HRW request access formally on Feb 2 and just over a week later more than 90 turn up in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and have been without food and water for more than a week, is this just a coincidence? Or instead of granting access to HRW were they been dumped at sea?

*Below is an excerpt from a previous which summarizes much of what transpired with the Rohingya when they were found in 2009:

The Nation should think back to the beginning of the year when the Rohingya were towed out to the sea by the Thai military (see herehere, and here). The reason we found about this story because some of the Rohingya boat people who had been towed out to sea by Thai military survived and made it to Indonesia and India after drifting for a number of days without food and water (see here and here). The number who died we will never know – the internal Thai investigation unsurprisingly found nothing – but from statements given to the Indonesian and Indian governments and to the media by survivors, it appears to be in the hundreds. We have extensive coverage by the South China Morning Post and CNN (the CNN reports won a prestigious award) – you also have coverage by the BBC and Al Jazeera, amongst others. We had foreign governments specifically criticize the Thai government handling of the Rohingya.

Then, of course, we saw the typical Thai government and bureaucracy response with the the military (see here and here), the Foreign Minister, a Senator, and a Deputy PM criticize the international media saying they wanted to slander Thailand and that they could not be trusted in their coverage of the Rohingya boat people. Eventually the military admitted they towed out (or in Foreign Ministry speak “escorted“) the Rohingya in their boats and dumped them in the middle of the ocean, but well no action was taken against anyone.

For the first week, we had almost nothing in the English language media in Thailand. It was as if nothing happened. Newley wrote at the time:

It’s interesting to note that the Rohingya boat people story is receiving scant coverage in the Thai media. This despite many stories in the international press that have drawn attention to the accusations over the last week. And yesterday, a CNN investigative report (which I mentioned here) showed new images that seem to confirm that hundreds of Rohingya people were abused and then towed out to sea with little food or water and cut adrift.

But Bangkok’s two English language newspapers are running very little material on the situation.

BP: The Nation finally wrote an editorial on the issue and stated “the tale of Rohingya refugees allegedly towed out to sea and abandoned by the Thai Navy is not welcome at all”. You will notice the dismissive tone by calling it a “tale”. The Nation‘s sister Thai language paper Kom Chad Luek had an editorial criticizing the foreign media for conspiring with some Thais to present negative news about Thailand in relation to the Rohingya and other issues.

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