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Lai Seng Sin/AP
A young Burmese refugee wears a headband which reads "Refugee" during a
demonstration outside the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Thai PM Admits Burmese Refugees Sent to Sea

February 13, 2009 07:26 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thursday to CNN that there were probably "some instances" in which Thai authorities sent the Rohingya back out into the water.

PM Acknowledges Refugees Were Mistreated

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Vejjajiva said that it is not clear who authorized the action. "All the authorities say it's not their policy, but I have reason to believe some instances of this happened, but if I can have the evidence as to who exactly did this I will certainly bring them to account," Vejjajiva said, according to CNN.

Thailand has long been a refuge for thousands of Rohingya refugees, a Muslim minority group from Burma, and recently the army has caused a public outcry after being accused of sending boatloads of refugees back out to sea.

In response to media attention surrounding the issue, Burma's senior official in Hong Kong, Consul General Ye Myint Aung, wrote in a recent public letter to the press and foreign officials that the Rohinya are "ugly as ogres" and should not be thought of as being Burmese.

"In reality, Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar's ethnic group," he wrote in the letter, in which he also compared the "dark brown" skin tone of the Rohingya with the "fair and soft" skin of other Burmese.

Earlier this month, the Indonesian navy found an engineless boat carrying 194 men who claimed that they were Rohingya refugees from Burma sent out to sea by Thai police.

The 12-meter boat was first discovered by local fishermen
off the coast of Sumatra, and was the second group of suspected Burmese refugees to arrive in the country in recent weeks.

The passengers said that they spent about three weeks at sea, with dwindling supplies of food and water, and that they were part of a group of 1,000 Rohingya who were sent out to sea by Thai security in January. About 50 men were hospitalized for dehydration and starvation, and some died during the journey.


One of the men, 37-year-old Rahmat bin Mohammad Daud Yulha, told Reuters on that he had been imprisoned in Myanmar for praying in a mosque before escaping to Thailand to find work, where he says that he and many other refugees were gathered, beaten and sent out to sea.

“I was caught and detained for three months. They beat me every day. Every day [I] only drunk a gulp of water,” said Yullha to Reuters. “I beg to stay in Indonesia. I want to bring my kids and wife. Instead of going back to Burma, I’d rather be shot in Indonesia. I want to die in the hands of the Muslims,” he said.

Background: The plight of the Rohingya

The Bangkok Post reports that Burma, Bangladesh, and Thailand have classified the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and are refusing them sanctuary.

Burmese ambassador to Thailand Daw Aye Aye Mu has said that the 200,000 some Rohingya, who were brought to the country during its colonial period, are not Burmese citizens, and that Burma has allowed them to stay on humanitarian grounds.

Previously, in response to outrage from human rights activists, Thai officials said they were investigating reports about refugees from Burma being sent out to sea.

The BBC reported that Prime Minister Vejjajiva met with human rights officials about Thailand's policy toward Rohingya refugees.

It has been reported by various media that the Thai government, after detaining the refugees on a remote island, have sent more than 1,000 Rohingya back to sea since December, some in boats without engines and no navigational equipment; and it was estimated in January that more than 500 individuals have died so far as a result. The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim, stateless minority group from Western Burma and Bangladesh, have been fleeing by boat in large numbers to Thailand and Malaysia.

Indian officials say that they have intercepted hundreds of refugees, mostly Rohingyas and some Bangladeshis, who have arrived on their shores, and said that the number of arrivals was “unprecedented.”

Vejjajiva’s meeting with human rights officials was prompted by a chorus of concern by human rights groups such as Refugees International, which issued a statement saying that the Thai government “should instruct its Army to desist” from its policy on the Rohingya.

“The Thai government is taking highly vulnerable people and risking their lives for political gain,” Refugee International Advocate Sean Garcia said in the statement. “It should be engaging the Burmese government on improving conditions at home for the Rohingya if it wants to stem these flows. The Rohingya will continue to make the journey because they have no hope for a better life in Burma. Pushing them back out to sea is not an effective deterrent—it just jeopardizes lives.”

According to the agency, the Rohingya are “subject to arrest and abuse” upon their return to Burma, where they are not recognized as citizens. There are about 800,000 Rohingya remaining in western Burma, where 200,000 of them live in refugee camps near the country’s border with Bangladesh.

“Stateless and unwanted, they are one of the world’s most forgotten people,” reports Time magazine.

Related Topics: Other Thailand news

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