PHUKET: A boatload of 112 Rohingya have come ashore to be arrested by local police north of Phuket, Phuketwan learned early today.
The men and boys made land on the beach at Thai Muang, a short drive north of Phuket in Phang Nga province, about 7.30am yesterday, a local officer said.
The men, aged 18 to 40, are being held at the immigration office in Phang Nga. Their arrival confirms concerns that thousands of Rohingya could flee to sea in coming weeks to escape persecution in Burma.
”They have told us that the boat was one of seven that left Rakhine province in western Burma about the same time,” said a policeman.
”One of the boats sank with more than 130 people on board. About 1000 people in total were on all the vessels.”
The boat, old and barely seaworthy, had been holed and was taking water. Local fishermen saw the boat making its way to shore in Thai Muang, about 60 kilometres north of Phuket, and called police.
The men told police that they had departed from Sittwe, the capital of the troubled Rakhine state, on November 2.
Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and thousands forced to flee their torched homes in two waves of community violence in Rakhine, also known as Arakan, since June.
Thousands of displaced Rohingya are being contained in rough camps in Burma where health and hygeine issues are causing concern for aid organisations.
Thai Navy patrols have been instructed to ”help on” Rohingya boats to prevent men and boys landing in Thailand this sailing season, which began in October and lasts until April.
In recent sailing seasons, as many as 5000 Rohingya have come ashore in Thailand and been taken into detention.
The ”help on” policy, under which Navy patrols supply Rohingya with food and water, medical aid and mechanical help if necessary, is designed to keep the boats from landing.
Most would prefer to stay at sea until they reach Muslim-majority Malaysia where they remain illegal arrivals.
Newly-elected US President Barack Obama is due to visit Burma with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later this month and their talks with President Thien Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi are expected to include the future of the Rohingya.
In January 2009, Phuketwan journalists working with the South China Morning Post newspaperexposed the secret pushbacks by Thai military of boatloads of Rohingya, a tactic that led to the deaths of hundreds which has since been replaced by the ”help on” policy.