Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Rohingya boatpeople arrested in Thailand

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Thailand on Tuesday said it has arrested and detained 78 Rohingya Muslim minorities from Burma.

"We arrested a total of 78 Rohingyas on Monday," the police officer from Ranong told Mizzima, adding, "some are now being admitted to hospital."

The police officer said they are being detained at the Ranong police station, in Southern Thailand, opposite Burma's Southern most town of Kawh Thawng.

The arrest and detention of 78 Rohingya boatpeople came amidst allegations that Thailand since December, has arrested and towed away hundreds of Rohingya boatpeople to the sea.

According to reports, batches of Rohingya boatpeople, who were drifting in the Andaman Sea, were rescued from India's Andaman Islands and Sabang island of Indonesia. Survivors said, they were arrested by Thai authorities and detained briefly before being sent back to sea on engine-less boats with little food and water.

But Thailand denied the accusation, saying it has never mistreated the Rohingya boat people and that its army had given humane treatment to the boatpeople.

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) last week requested the Thai government to allow it to access 126 Rohingyas, who they say were detained by Thai authorities at Koh Sai Daeng Island off the Thai coast in the Andaman Sea.

The UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond in a statement said, they had requested the Thai government to allow access to the 126 detained Muslim Rohingya boat people in order to assess their situation and determine whether any of them are in need of international protection.

But on Tuesday, Thailand said, the Rohingyas boatpeople are mainly economic migrants and that there are no grounds to believe that they have fled from their country of origin for fear of being persecuted.

"Their profile and their seasonal travel further support the picture that they are illegal migrants, and not those requiring international protection under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951," Thailand's Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Tuesday.

It further said, Thailand is into dialogues with the UNHCR both in Geneva and in Bangkok in this regards and also urged other relevant international organizations along with concerned countries to join hands in tackling the trend of illegal migration in the region.

Thailand said, it stopped each and every boatpeople on their arrival in Thai waters and questioned and had their needs assessed.

"If no evidence is found of their involvement in smuggling activities, they are supported in terms of basic humanitarian needs before undergoing repatriation or escorted out of Thai territory in accordance with Thai laws," the statement.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Burma's state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar reported that Burma will assist Thailand in stemming the inflow of Rohingya boat people.

Burma's military strongman number two Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, according to the newspaper offered to assist Thailand's Army Supreme Commander General Songkitti Jaggabatara, during his one-day visit on Monday.

Tun Khin, president of the London based Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), said many Rohingya boatpeople have fled their countries and will continue as conditions back home are worse then the risks they take on sea.

Rohingyas, who are Muslim minorities, mainly reside in parts of Burma's western Arakan state. But are being made stateless by the ruling regime in the form of not issuing national identity cards, Tun Khin said.

"We need permission even for marriage and education and traveling are all banned,"
Tun Khin, who fled the country to reside in UK because of such persecution, told Mizzima.

Thailand, in the statement, acknowledged that there are at least 20,000 Rohingyas in the Kingdom, while about 300,000 Rohingya refugees are reported to be taking shelter in camps in Bangladesh.

According to Burmese refugees in Malaysia, about 14,000 or more Rohingyas are registered as refugees under the UN refugee agency in Kuala Lumpur.

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