Friday, 10 April 2020

Chittagong, Bangladesh: Two boat-loads of 158 Rohingya boat voyagers were held in Thailand on 22 and 23 January while they were sailing the Andaman coast in an attempt to reach Malaysia where they are likely to receive more humane treatment than in Thailand or their native Burma, according to a member of Rohingya boat voyagers’ watch group.

There are 38 youth under the age of 18 among the 158 Rohingyas being held, the member said.

“On January 22, the first group of 91 Rohingya boat voyagers faced engine trouble, which forced them ashore in Trang Province of Thailand, not far from the Malaysian border. The group had the good fortune to land among fellow Muslims, around Yao Beach on the island of Libong. The villagers gave the men food,” said Marine Police Colonel Pradit Korsaman, of Trang's Kantang region. “However, they also took the precaution of calling the local police.”

“The voyagers said they had been at sea for 12 days. A spokesman in the group said they would be hanged if they were returned to Burma,” Colonel Pradit said.

Marine Police Colonel Pradit Korsaman said he thought the group was on their way from Burma to Malaysia. “We are providing basic humanitarian assistance with food and water, but they are illegal immigrants in Thailand. We have to follow our laws.”

Another group of 67 Rohingya men landed on Sarai Island in Tarutao National Park in Satun Province on January 23. The men appeared younger but just as hungry and exhausted as the 91 all-male occupants of the first boat that came ashore in Trang on January 22.

Local Satun fishermen raised the Rohingya alarm again on January 23 when they spotted the unusual boat and its bedraggled occupants in the national park.

“We had been at sea for 20 days after departing from Alaythankyaw Village of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Burma,” said Shabir Ahmed when Kaladan News Group was able to contact him by phone.

The boat voyagers did not give details of their voyage, including how they departed from Maungdaw, where Nasaka authorities continually watch the Naf riverbank. “We crossed the fence secretly and departed with our boat,” was all Shabir Ahmed said.

There are 38 youth under the age of 18 among of this 67 group.

The AFP news agency stated that Colonel Chawarat Plangsang, Superintendent of the Satun City Police Station, said: ''Special branch police arrested these men and passed them on to us. We will check their health, fingerprint them, take photos, and hear what they have to say. ''Tomorrow [Tuesday] we will pass them on to Immigration.''

The police chief of Kantang District of Trang province, where the first boat with 91 men was found, said they would be sent back to Burma. But, in Satun, where the other 67 were being held, Colonel Chawarat Plangsang, of the Satun City Police Station, said the men would be handed over to the Immigration authorities, but did not say whether or not they would be deported.

“Sending the Rohingya back into the hands of the junta would amount to inhumane treatment,” said the police chief in Kantang district to MCOT News website, which is majority-owned by the Thai government.

"Although it's against humanitarian grounds, the illegal entry of foreigners must come under the [Thai] legal framework," he reportedly said. "This is to prevent a similar problem from occurring again."

“We’re certainly concerned about the fate of the reportedly two groups of 158 Rohingya boat people,” said Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesman. “We have approached the Thai government, and we have asked for access to these people in order to do two things — first to assess the situation, and secondly to determine if any of them are in need of international
protection; in other words, if they are refugees.”

“Certainly in the light of the events of January 2009, and given the commitment of the new Thai government to human rights, we are keen to open a dialogue with the government,” Mahecic added.

“We are also ready to assist in finding a solution for the latest situation in line with the customary international humanitarian standards.”

The group of 67 Rohingyas are in custody in Thailand’s southern Satun Province, while the other group of 91 has been transferred to Ranong, near the border with Burma, UNHCR said.

Thailand and other Asian nations have long struggled with how to handle Rohingya boatpeople, who are denied citizenship rights in their native Burma. Burma’s Consul General to Hong Kong once said that the dark-skinned Rohingya could not be considered Myanmar citizens because they were "as ugly as ogres".

With Burma refusing to accept Rohingya deportees, some Rohingya have languished in detention elsewhere for years. Almost 200 remain stranded in a jail in the Indian Andaman Islands after being rescued by the Indian Coastguard in December 2008, having been cast adrift by the Thai army.

The Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO) called upon the Government of Thailand not to push back the boat people, and instead to treat them humanely on humanitarian grounds, according to its press release of January 26.

“Due to the continued persecution and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Rohingya communuity by the Burmese military regime, the outflows of Rohingyas from their homeland of Arakan State into Bangladesh and other countries have been a regular phenomenon over the decades. Also, during recent years the world has witnessed how the persecuted Rohingyas become desperate to make their way for safe shelter and protection to other Southeast Asian countries, risking their lives through turbulent seas and oceans in rickety boats. Many of them have drowned or perished or eventually ended up in jails in some countries,” the press release stated.

“Due to the sub-human conditions with no life or property security [that many Rohingya are subject to in Burma], the 158 boat people have left their ancestral homeland in search of shelters and protection, and as such they deserve sympathy, help, and protection from the people and government of Thailand,” the press release stated.