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Thailand Admonished for Lack of Aid, Refugee Status for Myanmar Asylum Seekers

Thai navy and park officials offer food to Rohingya found stranded on the Thai island of Koh Dong on June 4.
Thai navy and park officials offer food to Rohingya found stranded on the Thai island of Koh Dong on June 4.

An international rights body called on Thailand to provide humanitarian assistance and asylum to fleeing Rohingya people from Myanmar’s religiously divided Rakhine state.

“The Thai government should end its policy of summarily locking up rescued Rohingya boat people and throwing away the key,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch, on June 7.

She further sought assurances that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees be permitted to screen all Rohingya arriving in Thailand to identify and assist them in seeking refuge status.

The Thai navy found 59 Rohingya including five children stranded on an island in the south on June 4, said media reports while adding that they were abandoned by smugglers who charged them about 60,000 baht a person for a journey to Malaysia.

The latest incident followed the capsize of a boat that sailed from Rakhine’s capital Sittwe for Malaysia two weeks ago. At least 17 Rohingya including children died and more than 50 are still missing.

The navy maintains a policy of intercepting Rohingya boats that come too close to their coast and providing them with fuel, food, water and other supplies before pushing them toward Malaysia or Indonesia.

Human Rights Watch said this deadly pushback policy had resulted in Rohingya boats going missing on the high seas and people dying.

Denied citizenship and freedom of movement in Myanmar, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine and boarded overcrowded and unsafe boats heading for Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand after falling prey to human trafficking gangs.

Rights groups say the Myanmar military’s brutal crackdown has forced more than 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh while more than 600,000 remain in Rakhine.

Those who remain in Myanmar are trapped in appalling conditions inside temporary camps and villages without freedom of movement and cut off from access to adequate food, medical care, education and livelihoods.

Myanmar regards the Rohingya as interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh despite most of their ancestors having lived in the country for decades.

This story appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.