In a follow-up to Thursday’s post on the BBC story where more than 90 Rohingya refugees – other reports state 91 – have been found by the authorities in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands and who stated that their boat had been set adrift with little food and water in a boat without an engine by the Thai navy.
Marwaan in IPS:
“The (first) two boats had apparently been 12 days at sea,” Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which researchers human rights violations that the Rohingyas face in Burma, tells IPS. “We were informed that one boat with about 100 people had left on the night of January 9 and another boat on January 10 or 11 with about 70 people.” Lewa has been tracking the persecution the Rohingyas have endured at the hands of the Burmese military in the Arakan state, close to the Bangladeshi border.
The men who made it to Thailand’s shores – including the island of Phuket, which attracts millions of tourists annually for its clean and spacious beaches and its sprawling luxury hotels – were the fortunate ones.
“Four boats left earlier and have not been heard of,” Lewa told IPS. “Two boats left afterwards, one on January 14 and one on January 22.”
The Rohingyas’ arrival has brought into focus the continuing plight the Rohingyas face in predominantly Buddhist Burma, and the fate that awaits those who seek refuge in Thailand
BP: If BP is reading this correctly, this is their travelling from Burma to Thailand so around January 9 and around 12 days you get close to January 22.
A reliable source has told Phuketwan that the 91 Rohingya from the first boatload that arrived on the coast of Trang on January 22 were trucked north to Ranong, but that they were described in paperwork as ”Burmese from the south [of Thailand].”
A reliable source has said that the 67 in the second boatload were at one stage on their way north to Ranong, but their bus turned back when authorities in Ranong reported that journalists were waiting to greet them.
“We are gravely concerned by the media reports about an alleged push-back and are investigating,” Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN on 11 February in Bangkok, noting, however, that it was too early to speculate any further.
At least three boatloads of Rohingya have found their way to Thailand in the past month, activists say.
The first boat carrying 91 men of varying ages arrived in Trang Province on 22 January; a second boat with 67 men arrived in Satun Province on 23 January; and a third boat arrived in Phuket Province on 1 February carrying 68 men.
UNHCR has recently been granted access to those who were on the second and third boats, including nine teenagers who were interviewed on 11 February by a UNHCR lawyer and community services officer. The remaining 126 men would probably be interviewed next week, McKinsey said.
UNHCR, however, still does not know where the men from the first boat are
On Friday, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said it was unlikely that the Rohingya refugees were pushed out into the sea by the Thai Navy, but said the government would look into the matter.
“The normal practice is to prosecute refugees who illegally enter Thai waters and then deport them via land transportation,” said the spokesman in Bangkok, the Thai capital.
“Normally the navy officers try to keep the refugees out of Thai waters unless they need help. Their destination is Malaysia, not Thailand,” Panitan told the AP in a telephone interview.
BP: Normal practice = what was done in this instance? The Foreign Ministry issued a statement:
On 11 February 2011 Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, Director-General of the Department of Information and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, responded to media enquiries concerning news reports alleging that 91 Rohingyas found in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands were “set adrift” from Thailand, as follows:
1. From the latest information received, Thai authorities confirmed that they took into custody a group of 91 illegal migrants found onshore in Trang Province and handled their cases in accordance with the country’s immigration law. They were well treated and provided with the necessary basic needs in official facilities under the care of the Thai authorities. These individuals subsequently attested to be of Myanmar origin and therefore were deported at the border crossing in Ranong Province, which was in line with their wish. Thai authorities have no knowledge as to how this group of people may have travelled onwards after they departed from Thai territory.
2. To base assessment and findings on a one-sided account is unwarranted. Thailand has been providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, in spite of the heavy burden involved, in keeping with our long-standing tradition. This consideration has also been duly applied in the case of illegal migrants to whom the Kingdom has to apply its immigration law.
BP: So the Thai position is to suggest that they deported them to Burma and they left on another boat. BP would be interested on what happens to deported Rohingya. Are they immediately taken back to Arakan State or wherever they previously resided? One doesn’t imagine the wheels of Burmese justice are that quick and nice. If one reads between the lines of the Thai statement, they are trying to provide protection from themselves and an explanation if it turns out that the 91 are the same 91 who turned up in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
However, AP quotes an Indian police officer as stating:
He said the 91 refugees had set out from Bangladesh for Malaysia by way of Thailand on Jan. 2 to find jobs after paying money to traffickers.
They told Indian police that the Thai navy caught them on Jan. 13 and kept them in an isolated place for five days for illegally entering Thai waters.
Then naval officers towed them out to sea and left them adrift in the engine-less boat on Jan. 19 after giving them some rice, drinking water and cooking utensils, Tyagi quoted them as saying.
BP: This sounds like a different group then. On the 91, PhuketWan had a story back on January 22:
A BOATLOAD of would-be Rohingya refugees landed on Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast today and 91 men on board were apprehended.
The Rohingya men apprehended about 1pm today wanted to go to Malaysia . . . and narrowly failed to make their destination. Engine difficulties forced them ashore in Trang, a southern province, close to the border with Malaysia.
When the Rohingya’s unusually shaped boat appeared, villagers around Yao beach on the island of Libong gave the men food. However, they also took the precaution of calling the local police, said Marine Police Colonel Pradit Korsaman, of Trang’s Kantang region.
The men said they had been at sea for 12 days, having paid 150,000 baht to purchase their seats on the boat. A spokesman in the group said they would be hanged if they were returned to Burma, Colonel Pradit said.
Trang News reports that that that they have travelled for 12 days and that on January 23 that the authorities had pushed the Rohingya to Songkhla so they could be pushed back home.
Naew Na on January 24 reports the authorities have prepared to push the 91 out of the country (ผู้อพยพชาวโรฮิงญา รวม 91 คน…ก็มาถูกเจ้าหน้าที่ตรวจพบและจับกุมได้เสียก่อน ทั้งนี้ เจ้าหน้าที่ได้เตรียมผลักดันทั้งหมดออกนอกประเทศแล้ว
Then again, while it sounds like a different group, they did arrive in the same province of Trang. BBC again:
The Rohingyas who are now in Andamans have told Indian police that they suffered beatings and torture at the hands of the Thai law enforcing agencies after their arrest in Trang province.
“Later we were taken to the sea and put on a boat which had no engine and with very little food and water in it,” one of the Rohingyas told the police in a recorded statement.
The BBC again:
The UNHCR says the Rohingya in the Andamans are the same people deported by the Thai authorities in January. But it cannot verify the circumstances in which they got from one country to the other.
BP: In the end it really doesn’t matter which group. It was a group deported from Thailand. Human Rights Watch states that according to their information there are 9-10 boats that have left Bangladesh….