Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rohingya Refugees Appear in Thai Court, Face Extradition

Rohingya migrants sit on a police van after arriving at Ranong provincial court to hear charge of illegal entry in Ranong province, southwestern Thailand on Wednesday. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

Sixty two Rohingya boat people from Burma appeared before a court in Thailand’s southern Ranong province on Wednesday. All of the men, who were arrested on Tuesday by the Thai Navy, face repatriation to Burma if convicted of entering Thailand illegally.

Twelve other Rohingya refugees were under the age of 18 and are being detained at a Thai police station. Four others were admitted to hospital with injuries they say they sustained after Burmese troops intercepted their boat and beat them. One refugee reportedly died during the journey.

The Rohingyas, refugees from Burma’s Arakan State, appealed to Thai authorities not to send them back to Burma, where they face severe discrimination.

A Ranong resident who offered his help to the refugees said they had clearly been beaten. “There were many injuries on their backs. They said they were beaten by Burmese army.”

The Rohingyas, members of a Muslim minority in overwhelmingly Buddhist Burma, said they had bought a boat with the intention of reaching Malaysia. They had left their wives and children behind while they set out to find refuge and work in a Muslim country.

A Ranong police officer, Col Weerasilp Kwanseng, told the Associated Press that the refugees would be expelled from Thailand if found guilty of entering the country illegally.

The Associated Press report said one refugee, Mamoud Hussain, pleaded: “Have pity on us. They [Burmese army] will kill me and my family if I go back.”

Chris Lewa, a researcher on Rohingya issues, said: “This is an issue of serious concern. We are concerned what will happen to them because we know that the Burmese government never accepts any Rohingya back.”

She urged the Thai government to allow officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the Rohingya migrants to determine whether they needed protection.

Meanwhile, Surin Pitsuwan, Thai general-secretary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, told the TV station Aljazeera: “This is not an issue for a particular country. It is a regional issue. It is also an issue for the international community.”

Last week, Thai Foreign Ministry officials met with envoys from India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma to discuss the exodus of the Rohingya from Burma.

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