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Rohingya status awaits UN meet

A Rohingya migrant receives a health examination at a detention
centre in Songkhla’s Sadao district. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD


The government plans
to consult with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) before deciding on the status of nearly 850 detained Rohingya
migrants, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra says.

The
government will not return or relocate the Rohingya migrants for the
time being, Ms Yingluck said after yesterday’s cabinet meeting.


She
said the Foreign Ministry would discuss the matter with the UNHCR
before taking action.

“First
thing is we have to take care of them. Next is to discuss [the plan
of action] with the UNHCR,” she said. “We will have to
discuss it with [Myanmar] and a third-party country.”

Surapong
Kongchanthuk, an expert on stateless people and migrants for the
Lawyers Council of Thailand, urged the government to ask the UNHCR to
verify the status of the migrants.

He
said once the migrants are verified as refugees it will be easier to
relocate them to a third-party country.

“And
if they want to be sent back home, their safety must be guaranteed,”
he said. “They shouldn’t be left at the border to find their way
home because they will end up victims of the traffickers.”

He
also called on the government to find out whether the migrants were
victims of human trafficking.

The
prime minister yesterday instructed navy commander Surasak
Rounroengrom to head off the influx of Rohingya migrants. More than
840 Rohingya migrants have been rounded up in three raids in
Songkhla’s Sadao district over the past week.

Ms
Yingluck said some of the migrants might join the southern insurgency
rather than seek asylum in a third country.

Adm
Surasak said the navy would step up operations to keep the Rohingya
migrants from coming ashore.

Vice
Adm Tharathon Jitsuwan, commander of 3rd Naval Area, said it is part
of the navy’s job to curb smuggling of contraband goods, drugs and
illegal migrants.

Naval
interceptions of illegal migrant vessels will result in the migrants
being returned to their country of origin or to a third-party
country, he said.

“We
do provide them with humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Several
women and children are among the detained migrants.

The
migrants use Thailand as a transit point to seek jobs or asylum
elsewhere, and are often exploited by human traffickers, he said.

He
said the 3rd Naval Area was working closely with the Internal
Security Operations Command Region 4 and police to look out for human
trafficking networks.

Earlier,
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said authorities were
investigating the influx of Rohingya migrants.

Immigration
staff would be held to account if they were found to be involved in
human trafficking, he said.

Lt
Gen Paradorn Pattanathabut, secretary-general of the National
Security Council (NSC), said the Department of Special Investigation
and immigration authorities are also looking into the surge of
illegal migrants.

The
case is not yet considered a human trafficking crime, he said.

Lt
Gen Paradorn said the Social Development and Human Security Ministry
is being asked to help because women and children are among the
migrants.

In
the past, most Rohingya migrants have been men, he said.

Meanwhile,
two more Rohingya men were rescued yesterday while wandering in the
woods along the Songkhla-Satun border.
The
pair were found by locals who took them to a mosque in tambon Chalung
in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district. The men did not have any belongings.

They
told local authorities they were originally in a group of 30,
including women and children.

They
said they split from the group two days ago after being abandoned and
robbed by the people who brought them into the country.

It
is believed the group was abandoned after authorities stepped up
security following the arrest of the other three groups.

Police
yesterday issued a warrant for the arrest of Sarok Kaewmaneechote on
a charge of providing Rohingya migrants with accommodation. The
suspect was identified as the owner of a house in Padang Besar
municipality where 139 migrants were detained on Sunday.

Police
are still hunting for two men in connection with the Rohingya
migrants.

Source
Bangkok Post: