Friday, January 30, 2009

Amnesty slates Burma on migrants

(Bangkok Post) -The human rights group Amnesty International on Friday called on Burma to stop persecuting its Rohingya people and urged its neighbours to meet their humanitarian obligations.

London-based Amnesty International said in an open letter issued in Bangkok that the mistreatment of the Muslim minority from Burma's western Rakhine State was the "root cause'' of a crisis which has seen thousands of migrants cast adrift in open seas.

"Burma must immediately stop the persecution of the Rohingya minority, which is the root cause of the crisis,'' said the letter, signed by Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi and circulated to six Asian nations.

"All governments should meet their obligations under the law of the sea and provide assistance to those in distress at sea,'' it added.

Thailand's military was accused of towing hundreds of Rohingya people out to sea in poorly equipped boats with scant food and water.

The accusations surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some claiming to have been beaten by Thai soldiers.
Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.

"The Thai government must stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance and cease any plans to proceed with more expulsions,'' the letter continued.

Amnesty said it was "encouraged'' by reports that Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had invited the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to participate in a regional forum on the issue.

Meanwhile, UNHCR on Friday refused to comment on the condition of teenagers from Burma being held in Thai custody out of "courtesy'' to Thailand's government.

UNHCR on Thursday visited 12 teenagers being held in Thailand's southern Ranong province -- part of a group of 78 migrants discovered off southern Thailand on Monday.

They claim abuse at home but Burma's junta denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group in the mainly Buddhist country and claims the migrants are Bangladeshis.

On Friday Indonesia said it would repatriate the 174 Rohingya migrants found off its coastline, currently being detained on an Indonesian naval base.

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