Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rohingya boatpeople's fate hangs in balance

By Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima)– The fate of Rohingya boatpeople, who in recent months were stranded in Indonesia, India and Thailand, is still hanging in balance as authorities continue discussing what to do with them.

An official in India's Andaman Island told Mizzima on Wednesday that they are still waiting for representatives from the government of Bangladesh to be able to deport the Rohingya boat people.

"Their [Bangladesh government] representatives will be coming here within this week," the official said. "The representative will come and take them."

The Indian official said the boatpeople were rescued from the Andaman Sea after they were found to be adrift in boats without engines and were given necessary medical treatment.

Since December 2008, different batches of Rohingya boatpeople were rescued from the sea by India and Indonesia. Survivors said they boarded boats from Bangladesh and were first caught by the Thai Navy, who then towed them off to the sea and set them adrift.

Thailand also arrested some of the boatpeople who had arrived on their coast, saying they will be tried in a court for illegally entering the country.

Kitty Mckinsey, spokesperson of UNHCR in Thailand said, "We are trying to find a solution for them [boatpeople]. We are talking with the Thai government on what will be the best solution for them."

Thailand has detained 78 Rohingya at the Immigration detention centre in Ranong, southern Thailand while three of them are still in hospital. The UNHCR said it is still uncertain whether they will be recognized as refugees.

"That is [giving refugee status] very premature we are not discussing this right now," said Mckinsey. "There is really not much going on right now."

The UNHCR in Indonesia also said they are waiting for permission from the government to get access to the nearly 400 boat-people in Sabang Island in Ache province.

Anita Restu, spokesperson of the UNHCR in Jakarta said, "the UNHCR doesn't yet have access to the group of Rohingya. Though Indonesia has announced that it has agreed in principle to give UNHCR access but till now we are still waiting to hear about the detail of the access."

She said the UNHCR is still into discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since last week. But it is sill not certain as to whether they will be given refugee status.

"We have not decided yet on the plan of access because we are still discussing. We hope to get it this week," said Restu.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross in Indonesia said they are providing food and other necessities to the boat-people in Sabang Island.

"We have been providing them relief since January 7," said an official of the Red Cross in Indonesia.

The official said about 400 Rohingya are living in three tents set up by the Red Cross and one is under medical care in the hospital for Tuberculosis (TB).

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