BANGKOK (AlertNet) - The United Nation’s refugee agency is trying to get access to 150-odd Rohingyas detained in Thailand in the past few days, amid fears they may be deported back to Myanmar which does not recognise them as citizens.
The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Rights groups say they are one of the most discriminated people in the world, suffering abuses and deprived of free movement, education and employment under the country's military junta.
“We’re certainly concerned about the fate of reportedly two groups of 158 Rohingya boat people,” said Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesman.
“We have approached Thai government and we have asked for access to these people in order to do two things -- first to assess the situation and secondly, to determine if any of them are in need of international protection, in other words, if they’re refugees.”
Two groups of Rohingya men landed in Thailand on Saturday and Sunday en route to Malaysia when engine trouble forced them to come ashore.
Local news reports said there may be a total of eight boats that have left the former Burma although the other six boats are currently unaccounted for.
Thai authorities reportedly said both groups would probably be repatriated, sparking concerns from rights groups.
A group of 67 Rohingyas are in custody in Thailand’s southern Satun province while another group of 91 has been transferred to Ranong close to the border with Myanmar, UNHCR said.
The plight of the Rohingyas came to light two years ago when Thailand's military was accused of towing 992 Rohingyas boat people to sea before abandoning them to their fate with little food or water in boats without engines.
“Certainly in the light of events of January 2009 ... and given the commitment of the new Thai government to human rights, we are keen to open the dialogue with the government,” Mahecic said.
“We are also ready to assist the solution of the latest situation in line with the customary international humanitarian standards.”
Malaysia is home to 85,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar although it is unknown how many are Rohingyas. The Myanmese constitute 92 percent of Malaysia's refugee population.
Rohingyas have also been seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh since the late 1970s. Thailand currently has around 150,000 refugees, mainly from eastern Myanmar, in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.