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Thais sent refugees to death in the sea January 19, 2009

Posted by chandrapong007 in International.

Refugees missing at sea after Thais reject them


Friday, January 16, 2009
By Seth Mydans
International Herald Tribune (Paris, France)


BANGKOK: In the past month, the Thai authorities have detained as many as 1,000 boat people from Bangladesh and Myanmar and sent them back out to sea in boats without engines, human rights groups and local researchers say. At least 300 people are reported to be missing at sea.

The migrants are members of the ethnic Rohingya minority, mostly stateless people who live in a cycle of poverty, repression, escape, capture and exploitation.

The expulsions reverse a policy in which Thailand has allowed thousands of Rohingya to land in recent years, mostly on their way to seek work in Malaysia. In many cases those migrants are turned over to human traffickers.

Thailand denies the expulsions, saying that all arrivals are processed through legal channels.

The reports coincide with separate criticism of Thailand for human rights abuses in combating a Muslim insurgency in the south. They recall past incidents in which the Thai military has forced out groups of refugees, sometimes to their deaths.

In one case last month, the researchers say, 410 Rohingya migrants were taken out to sea on a Thai Navy vessel and forced onto an open barge with just four barrels of water and two sacks of rice.

Four people were thrown overboard with their hands and feet tied in order to encourage the others to board the barge, according to the reports.

After drifting for two weeks, about 100 of the Rohingya migrants were rescued on the Andaman Islands, which are administered by India. About 300 remain missing after attempting to swim to shore, according to several reports.

In a second case soon afterward, 580 people reportedly were seized off the Thai coast on three overcrowded fishing boats. These were towed back out to sea after their engines were removed, said Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues who heads a private human rights group called the Arakan Project.

Two of those boats reached shore, at Aceh in Indonesia and on the Andaman Islands, and one is missing, she said.

She said a new boatload of 46 migrants arrived Friday morning on Thailand’s southern coast, and were seized by the Thai military, which has not until recently been involved in local issues of illegal immigration.

The expulsions were reported in the last week in The South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong. Thai officials denied on Friday that any such expulsions occurred.

“We never push them back to the sea,” said the official, Lieutenant Colonel Tara Soranarak, inspector of the Ranong immigration office.

He added, “We have our procedure to deport back the migrants to their home country after processing them through the Thai legal system.”

Privately, Thai officials voiced concern about the Rohingya as Muslims who might join a rebellion in southern Thailand in which some rebels are seeking a separate Islamic state. This week Amnesty International issued a report condemning Thailand for systematic abuses in combating the insurgency.

The reports of harsh treatment come in the context of a huge flow of refugees from neighboring countries over the past three decades that has imposed social and economic burdens on Thailand. Since the mid-1970s, Thailand has been a refuge for millions of people fleeing conflict and repression in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

“Thailand is surrounded by dangerous neighbors who have generated huge refugee flows, and it has sometimes felt overwhelmed by these flows,” said Kenneth Bacon, president of the human rights group Refugees International. “Its record in handling them is mixed.”

In the most notorious incident, in 1979, 42,000 Cambodian refugees fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge were forced back down a cliff into a minefield by the Thai military. Survivors said many of them died.

During the same period, Vietnamese boat people were victimized by Thai pirates operating without official restraint.

Although tens of thousands of refugees now live in semi-permanent camps along the Thai border with Myanmar, some of these periodically are forced back against their will.

Last summer, Human Rights Watch protested the forcible repatriation of a group of ethnic Karen refugees who had fled to Thailand to escape military brutality in Myanmar.

The Rohingya are among the most helpless of the refugees, an abused minority in Myanmar who migrated in large numbers to Bangladesh, where they live in poverty and mostly without rights as a stateless minority.

Experts on the Rohingya describe an endless cycle of abuse in which migrants are handed over to traffickers who demand money to take them to Malaysia, where many are arrested and sent back into the hands of some of the same traffickers in Thailand.

If at any stage they are unable to pay the traffickers, the immigrants say, they can be sold to Thai fishing trawlers as indentured laborers.


In Khmer language (From RFI): http://www.rfi.fr/actukm/articles/109/article_792.asp



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