Monday, January 26, 2009

Probe questions fate of refugees in Thailand

This picture provided to CNN is said to show refugees
being towed out to sea by the Thai army.

This picture provided to CNN is said to show refugees
being processed on a remote Thai beach.

This picture taken December 23 by a tourist to
Thailand's Similan Islands shows handcuffed
refugees under guard.

This photo taken December 23 by a tourist to the
Similan Islands shows refugees grouped on a
beach, far right.

Photograph released by Thai navy showing a group
of illegal immigrants captured on December 12.

By Dan Rivers

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Bedraggled, hungry and dazed, the refugees arrived on the shores of Thailand after fleeing one of the most repressive governments in the world -- the hard-line military regime in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

But a CNN investigation has uncovered evidence that for hundreds of Rohingya refugees -- members of a Muslim minority group -- abuse and abandonment at sea were what awaited them in Thailand, at the hands of Thai authorities.

Extraordinary photos obtained by CNN from someone directly involved in the Thai operation show refugees on their rickety boats being towed out to sea, cut loose and abandoned.

One photo shows the Thai army towing a boatload of some 190 refugees far out to sea.

For days, accusations have been carried in several regional papers that the Thai army has been systematically towing boat-loads of Rohingya refugees far out to sea and setting them adrift.

The army denied it, and the Thai government has launched an inquiry.

CNN's investigation -- based on accounts from tourists, sources in Thailand and a Rohingya refugee who said he was on a boat towed back out to sea -- helps to piece together a picture of survival thwarted by an organized effort not just to repel arriving refugees, but to hold them prisoner on shore, drag them in flimsy boats far out to sea and then abandon them. Video Watch CNN's investigation into reports of refugees being set adrift »

Three tourists recently voiced concern to CNN over what they had seen -- and in some cases photographed -- near Thailand's tourist areas.

One tourist provided CNN with photos last week of refugees detained by Thai authorities on a beach near a tourist site, with the refugees prone on the sun-bleached sand while guards stood nearby.

"Whenever someone raised their head or moved, they [guards] would strike them with a whip," said Australian tourist Andrew Catton.

A CNN crew traveled to a remote stretch of the Thai coast four hours north of the tourist island of Phuket to investigate the growing reports that the Thai military was secretly detaining Rohingya refugees before towing them out to sea and setting them adrift.

In an isolated beach area, debris including sandals and campfire remnants indicated that large numbers of people had been there but were nowhere to be seen.

The crew then traveled to a nearby island, where residents reported that refugees who had escaped were living in the jungle.

In one hamlet, villagers had captured a Rohingya man they believed had been living in the jungle for days.

The refugee, who identified himself as Iqbal Hussain, told CNN he was on one of six boats in a makeshift refugee fleet that arrived in Thailand in December.

He said all six boats with their refugee cargo were towed back out to sea in January, and five of the six boats sank. His boat made it back to shore, and he hid in the jungle for days until nearby villagers captured him.

In broken English and using sign language and drawings, he described what happened to the other men on the boats:

"All men dead," he said, putting the number of dead at several hundred.

The Rohingya, a persecuted minority in Myanmar, have been fleeing their country in rickety boats for years, in search of a better life.

In Thailand, many instead have found deprivation and the possibility of desertion far off shore, according to the CNN investigation.

The source who provided CNN with photos of refugees in a boat being towed out to sea stressed that the Thai army had given the refugees food and water, but he also confirmed that the boats had been pulled for more than two days into international waters before they were set adrift.

His account directly contradicts briefings by senior Thai army sources who denied any such operation was undertaken.

A source in the Thai military, after extensive questioning, did confirm to CNN that the Thai army was operating a dump-at-sea policy. But the source defended it, insisting that each boatload of refugees was always given sufficient supplies of food and water.

That source claimed local villagers had become afraid of the hundreds of Rohingya arriving each month, and that they were accusing the refugees of stealing their property and threatening them.

CNN asked the government for comment and was told an investigation was being launched. Reflecting the sensitivity of the matter, a report on that investigation is expected to go directly to the prime minister.

READ MORE---> Probe questions fate of refugees in Thailand...

More proof refugee boats towed to sea

PRESSURE mounted on Thailand today to come clean on allegations the army towed Rohingya refugees out to sea and abandoned them in engine-less boats, after CNN showed pictures depicting exactly that.

The Rohingyas are Muslims from northwest Burma.

Many have fled the Bhuddist-dominated, military-ruled country, where they say they face repression and economic hardship.

The cable news channel also interviewed a Rohingya man captured by a civilian militia on one remote Thai island in the Andaman Sea, who said he had been on one of six refugee boats that arrived in December.

The boats were towed back out to sea in January but five of them sank, the visibly distressed man said in a mixture of broken English and sign language.

"All men ... dead," said the man, identified as Iqbal Hussein, corroborating other survivors' reports of boats cut adrift without engines and hundreds of migrants left to die.

The Government's chief spokesman declined immediate comment, saying all questions should be directed to the Foreign Ministry.

Rohingya rights groups and survivors who washed up on India's Andaman Islands and Aceh in Indonesia in the last four weeks say 992 migrants were towed out in two separate episodes in December.

Of the 992, 550 are thought to be missing, feared drowned.

The army colonel at the centre of the abuse allegations has denied any wrongdoing, and said the migrants were given food and water and helped on their way after Thai villagers repaired their boats.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised a full investigation, but has also issued on behalf of the military a blanket denial of any abuse.

As a result of decades of persecution, more than 230,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to the UN refugee agency.

Tens of thousands more have fled, normally in rickety wooden boats,
in search of a better life elsewhere.

Many have ended up in Malaysia.

READ MORE---> More proof refugee boats towed to sea...

Rohingyas face 'slow burning genocide': Activist

By Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - At least a hundred Rohingya ethnics and supporters on Monday gathered in front of the Thai and Burmese embassies in London, to stage a protest demanding just treatment to fellow Rohingya boat people, who are allegedly being detained by Thai authorities.

Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK), who led the demonstration, said they are concerned about their fellow Rohingya boat people, who are reportedly detained by Thai authorities and have been towed away to sea on boats without engine.

"We call on the Thai government to find a long term solution to the problem and urge them to exercise restraint from towing away our unfortunate brothers into the sea," Tun Khin said.

Migration of Rohingyas, who mainly reside in parts of Burma's western Arakan state, in search of greener pastures will persist until the root cause is solved, Tun Khin said.

"Towing them away to the sea is not a solution to the problem," he added.

According to Tun Khin, Rohingyas, who are Muslim minorities in military-ruled Burma, face the worst form of human rights violation under the military regime. They are deprived of being a citizen and are required to get permission even for marriage.

Rohingyas are banned from travelling within Burma, education and the right to own properties such as land, house and others are denied by the ruling junta, Tun Khin said.

"These [boatpeople] desperate as they are at home, are risking their lives out in the sea and are going out in search of a better place. And these waves are not going to end unless the root causes are solved," he added.

In recent months, since December, hundreds of Rohingya boat people have been reported rescued from drifting near the coast of Andaman Islands in India and at Sabang in Aceh province of Indonesia.

Survivors said, they were arrested and detained by the Thai military as they crossed the Thai waters, and were towed away in wooden boats without engines with little supply of rice and water. But Thailand has denied mistreating the Rohingya boat people.

The boatpeople were reportedly heading for Malaysia and Thailand in search of jobs and security.

Tun Khin said, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the problem and several more are likely to follow unless the Thai government as well as the international community acts to stop persecutions in Burma.

He said, the Burmese junta is targeting them in particular and are forcing them to be stateless, as younger generations of the Rohingyas are no longer issued national identity cards.

"It is a slow burning genocide," he said.

READ MORE---> Rohingyas face 'slow burning genocide': Activist...

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