Thursday, February 5, 2009

UN discusses with Thailand to find solution for Rohingya boatpeople

By Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand said it is discussing with the Thai government on a possible solution for 78 Rohingya boat people, who were arrested by the Thai authorities and charged for illegally entering the country.

Kitty Mckinsey, the UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok said, the agency have been granted access to the detained boatpeople and are now trying to find a solution for them.

"We are working with the Thai government to try to figure out what the possible solutions are," Mckinsey said.

She said the agency is briefing the Thai government on their findings about the boatpeople, but decline to reveal on the situation of the boatpeople.

Thailand after weeks of request put forward by the UN Refugee Agency, have allowed access to the 78 Rohingya boatpeople, who are charged for illegally entry.

Despite of several Rohingya boatpeople rescued from drifting in the Andaman Sea, fresh batches of boatpeople have been reportedly rescued this week in Indonesian coast.

According to reports, survivors told Indonesian officials that they were arrested by Thai authorities, who then towed them away into the sea after sabotaging the engine of their boat, a similar claim that earlier batches of boatpeople have stated.

But Thailand has categorically denied abusing the boatpeople and removing the engine of their boats, though it admits that it cannot allow migrants to enter illegally.

Despite Thailand's denial, about 450 Rohingya survivors, those rescued by Indian Navy in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, reveal that they have been abused by Thai soldiers.

An official at the Andaman Island also told Mizzima at the time of rescue the Rohingya were found drifting without engines in their boats.

Since December last year, hundreds of Rohingya boat people were rescued at India's Andaman Island, Indonesia's Sabang Island and in the coasts of Thailand.

When asked of the possibilities of setting up a refugee camp for the Rohingya boatpeople, UNHCR's spokesperson Mckinsey said, "We have not had any plans to set up refugee camp," brushing off Thailand's fears of having to deal with yet a new refugee camp.

"We are just trying to get basic facts about them like who they are? and where they come from?," said Mckinsey adding that it is still uncertain for the UN refugee agency to provide international protection.

"We don't even know whether they will apply for asylum," said Mckinsey.

Thailand, earlier this week, have voice its opposition to allow a new refugee camp to be open in its territory and about 500 people demonstrated on Tuesday.

But Mckinsey said, it is against the principle of humanitarian norms to deport back those boatpeople to their origin, if they could prove of well-founded fear.

"Our position all over the world is no one from Northern Rakhaing [Arakan] State should be force to return home against their will," she said.

Amnesty international (AI), meanwhile, said Rohingya, Muslim minorities from Northern Arakan state, will continue to flee to neighboring countries as persecution by the Burmese military government are still ongoing. So, neighboring countries should help them by following the international human rights law.

"They need to provide humanitarian assistance, they need to feed and treat these people, and UNHCR needs to determine whether or not they are refugees," said Benjamin Zawacki , Amnesty International's Burma and Thailand researcher.

He said, the boatpeople's issue have become a regional issue of six countries and Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh needs to come together to solve the problem. The root courses of the crisis clearly lie with the Burmese authority.

AI also called on the Thai government to investigate accuses against its army over abusing the rights of the Rohingya.

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