Thailand is still looking for an effective way to deal with hundreds of Rohingya boat people as 44 await deportation after being detained for two years.
On Jan 22, 91 ethnic Muslim Rohingya were found off the coast of Trang province. They were taken to Ranong immigration office but seven were later reported missing. It was possible they had escaped.
The next day, another boat carrying 67 Rohingya was towed to the coast in Satun province. They were taken to Sadao immigration office in Songkhla province. However, only 56 are reported to still be there.
Human rights activists claim there might have been collusion between traffickers and local authorities that has helped clear some of the boat people from the legal process.
The latest batch of the Burmese minority group arrived in Phuket on Tuesday. Authorities have yet to interview the 33 Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Thai government to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unhindered access to all detained Rohingya, whom the New York-based agency describes as asylum seekers, to determine whether they are qualified for refugee status.
Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, said Thailand's response to the Rohingya contrasted sharply with that of Malaysia, where authorities allowed the UNHCR to visit and assess 93 Rohingya who were detained after their boat was intercepted in March 2010.
The UNHCR concluded that all were refugees and Malaysian authorities later released them from immigration detention, said Mr Adams.
"As a new member and the present chair of the UN Human Rights Council, Thailand should be spearheading regional efforts to protect refugees rather than detaining them," Mr Adams said.
"The Thai government should take advantage of the expertise of the UNHCR, which has repeatedly told the authorities it is ready to help screen Rohingya asylum seekers."
During the early days of the Abhisit administration in January 2009, Thailand faced international condemnation over alleged maltreatment of Rohingya.
In the same year, another 78 Rohingya were arrested in Ranong. They were prosecuted and moved to Bangkok.
Twenty-nine were eventually allowed to go to Bangladesh, while 44 have remained at Bangkok's Suan Phlu immigration detention centre after the Burmese government refused to take them back. Five went missing without explanation.
Surapong Kongchantuk, chair of the Lawyers' Council of Thailand's subcommittee on human rights of stateless and ethnic groups, said the prosecution of illegal immigrants including the Rohingya has proved successful in preventing human trafficking gangs from towing these people to Thai shores.
"The Thai authorities should be more active in pursuing legal cases and protecting the illegal Rohingya as witnesses so that we could trace the big fish. Deporting or pushing them back only prompts them to try to return here with the help of illicit gangs and bad officials," said Mr Surapong.
He urged the government to get to the bottom of the trafficking movement.
Source : Bangkok Post