Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rights group calls on Thailand to change policy for boatpeople

Thai Navy holds Rohingya boatpeople where Navy keeps like dried fish and exposed to the hot sun

Kalandan Press

Chittagong, Bangladesh: A rights group, Refugees International (RI) from Washington, D.C called on the Government of Thailand to change their policy towards boat people, who have been recently entering their territory, through a press release yesterday.

The boat people are primarily stateless Burmese Rohingya escaping severe oppression and harsh poverty at home, but also include some Bangladeshi migrants. Both group board boats of varying seaworthiness with the aim of finding security and economic opportunity in Thailand and Malaysia, the statement said.

"The Government of Thailand should instruct its Army to desist from its new and troubling policy of pushing refugees and migrants intercepted on boats back out to sea which endangers their lives, and exposes them to the risk of capsizing or sinking," the statement said.

The Thai government is detaining them on a remote island and then forcing them back out to sea, statement added.

Thai Navy holds Rohingya boatpeople, and giving punishment like drying on hot sand

"The actions of the Thai government contravene accepted standards of international law that discourage putting civilians at greater risk after being in the custody of government officials. The Thai authorities should, at a minimum, revert to the practice of deporting undocumented migrants. Thai officials should also ensure that refugees seeking asylum are properly screened and are not forced back to their country of origin if it will put them at risk," the statement more added.

"The Thai government is taking highly vulnerable people and risking their lives for political gain. It should be engaging the Burmese government on improving conditions at home for the Rohingya if it wants to stem the flow. The Rohingya will continue to make the journey because they have no hope for a better life in Burma. Pushing them back out to sea is not an effective deterrent – it just jeopardizes lives," said Advocate Sean Garcia.

Thai Navy holds Rohingya boatpeople and tied with plastic rope on Navy

"The Rohingya are stateless and have no rights inside Burma. The Burmese government targets them for forced labour and extortion, and restricts their movement. The Burmese government's policy of actively displacing the Rohingya from their homeland means that any refugee who is forced back is subjected to arrest and abuse. Until the Rohingya are recognized by Burma as citizens, neighboring countries like Thailand must protect and assist this vulnerable population," he added.

"It was a sick and bizarre situation, and there appeared to be children in the groups as well. They were forcibly exposed to the hot sun although trees provided shade a few meters away. Some of the tourists went over to look at what was going on," said Mrs. Skibelig, who had her Christmas holiday in Similan Islands, Thailand, together with 20 other family members, is one of the eyewitnesses about the policy of Thailand regarding boatpeople.

"When we first arrived on the beach we thought the Thai military was going through a military drill. Later we understood that something very, very serious was going on," Mrs Skibelid explained to the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.no

The refugee (boatpeople) had been arrested and forcibly kept on the beach since 10 a.m. and were still lying there when the Norwegian travelers left in the afternoon, at around 4 pm. They also witnessed the guards hitting and kicking the refugees, she added.

Nearly 200 people (174 Rohingyas and 19 Bangladeshi) reached Indonesia's Sumatra island on a wooden boat on January 7, and after drifting for a few days were found by local fishermen and transferred to the coastguard where medical treatment and food were provided by the Indonesia government, according to local Navy Commander Yanuar Handwiyono.

Nurse helping a boatpeople in Indonesia

On January 4, 2009, a motor-boat carrying about 97 people returned to Shapuri Dip of Bangladesh, at about 12:30 pm, after Burmese naval forces from Rangoon Division pushed them back. The Burmese authorities provided the travelers with some ration and fuel, according to a person who returned from the Rangoon coast.

Towards the end of last year, the British "The Guardian" newspaper mentioned, "More than 300 people believed to be illegal migrants and mostly Bangladeshis were feared to have drowned. The accident took place off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal on December 28, as the victims jumped into the sea and tried to swim ashore."

"The men were mostly Bangladeshis and some Burmese nationals, aged between 18 and 60, who drifted through the Bay of Bengal, and we are trying to rescue the boatpeople with navy ship and helicopter," said authorities in Port Blair.

"To arrest people when they enter Thai waters then release them in international waters, without motors or sails, would clearly be a violation of international human rights,'' said Chris Lewa, a Bangkok-based social worker who is seeking better treatment for the Rohingya boat people.

Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. In November 2008, Refugees International staff conducted a mission to Bangladesh and Malaysia to assess the humanitarian conditions for Burmese Rohingya refugees, including boat migrants. There are approximately 1 million Rohingya living outside Burma.

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