Sunday, August 23, 2009

Despair, then death: The Rohingya riddle

The deaths of two teenagers held for seven months at Ranong detention centre highlight the inadequacies of government policies and facilities to deal with boat people

by: Piyaporn Wongruang

(Bangkok Post) -They say that despair can kill a man, and so it did with two teenage Rohingya held in the Ranong detention centre for seven months. Two doctors who treated the detainees at the centre said the pair basically starved themselves to death after becoming dispirited and refusing to eat or exercise. The official reason for the two teenagers' deaths is "natural causes" caused by cardiac arrest.

WAITING: Rohingya refugees at the immigration detention centre in Bangkok.

"Their minds were just so sick that they lost enthusiasm for everything," said one of the doctors based at the centre who preferred to remain anonymous. "They refused to take food and they refused to move around. They told me that they were desperate and didn't know what to do with their lives any more. They told me that it's better to kill them than to detain them like this."

The deaths go to the heart of Thailand's problems dealing with illegal immigrants and refugees, and the inadequacy of current policies and facilities to deal with the growing number of cases.

Abdul Salam, 18, died on June 30 on the way to Ranong Hospital. Hammatula, 15, was found dead in the detention centre at 4am on Aug 13, a day after a medical check by one of the doctors. The two were among 78 ethnic Muslim Rohingya boat people fleeing Burma who were intercepted by the navy near Surin Island on Jan 26, and sent to the centre a few days later.

Abdul's and Hammatula's bodies were covered in wounds, after allegedly being tortured by the Burmese military during their boat trip, according to the doctor at the centre. The medical team treated the teenagers' wounds in the first few months of their detention, but the pair were overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. According to the same doctor, they gradually became fatigued, hardly moving and sitting or lying down most of the time.

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