Thailand is turning a deaf ear to calls from rights groups to allow the UN's refugee agency to interview some 200 detained Rohingya boatpeople.
The last group of 68 Rohingya boatpeople was handed over to Thai immigration authorities on Wednesday for questioning. They are currently being detained in Phuket after being arrested by Thai police on Tuesday when they came ashore.
Alan Morison, the editor of the Phuket Wan online website, said that Thai immigration authorities decide after questioning the Rohingyas whether to allow the UNHCR access to the boatpeople or whether to deport them.
|Rohingya migrants sit outside a police station in southern Thailand. (Photo: Channel News Asia)|
Tuesday's landing was the third such incident in recent weeks after a total of 150 Rohingya refugees went ashore in Ranong and Trang in southern Thailand in January.
Rohingya people frequently leave their homes and families in Bangladesh and Burma where they are discriminated against and whose living conditions are among the worst in the world.
Attempting to find work in neighboring Thailand and Malaysia, and travelling by sea in small boats, they regularly wash ashore or are forced to land because of the conditions in the Andamman Sea.
Two prominent rights groups have also called on the Thai government to give UNHCR staff permission to visit the Rohingya boatpeople to determine if they qualify as refugees or need international protection.
Richard Sollom, the deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, said, “These stateless Muslims from Burma are fleeing religious and ethnic persecution, and they deserve recognition as refugees. Thailand needs to follow the lead of Malaysia and allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to the asylum seekers to ensure that they receive a fair and honest evaluation.”
Sollom said that the Rohingya people generally endure lives of persecution in Burma, and after their dramatic escape, they deserve a chance at freedom.
On Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thailand should immediately allow the UNHCR access to the more than 200 detained Rohingya boatpeople who landed in Thailand in January and Feb. 1.
HRW said that the boatpeople are at risk of "atrocious" persecution in Burma, but the Thai authorities continue to pretend that they are no different from any other undocumented migrants.
Thailand has also been criticized for treating Rohingya people inhumanely—the Rohingya issue drew international attention in 2009 when the Thai military was accused of intercepting boatloads of Rohingyas, sabotaging their vessels and abandoning them at sea.