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Will Thailand Really Send These Children Back to Burma? Photo Special

News Analysis/
Photo Album Above

April 27, 2013

PHUKET: The boy
born at sea is thriving, just like all the Rohingya children who have spent
three months in care at a refuge centre north of Phuket.
They run, they
jump, they play football and hang from trees, like very active pieces of fruit.
When these children
first came ashore from their rickety Rohingya boats, they were motionless. They
did not move much. Their faces were rigid and unsmiling.
This is probably
natural when your life is endangered on a perilous voyage, fleeing Burma, the
homeland where they are not considered citizens and where violence, rape and
brutality are common these days.
The difference in
the behavior of the children now is remarkable, as our photographs show.
How long will their
happiness last? It’s now three months since Thai officials ruled that the
Rohingya ”rescued” from boats and from human trafficking camps would be
assessed and their futures decided over a period of six months. 

Nuru, the Rohingya
babe born stateless on a boat off Thailand Photo by
Halfway through, it
appears as though little progress has been made. Thai officials are reportedly
seeking the help of Burmese officials to determine the status of the 2000
Rohingya being held in detention in Thailand.
There is talk of
them being sent back to Burma.
This outcome is
unlikely because the Rohingya are not recognised as citizens of Burma, and it’s
the declared policy of the government to have them leave Burma for other
To have them sent
back would fly in the face of logic and defy every definition of a refugee.
These people were
driven from Burma in fear of their lives. Some of them have told Phuketwan that
they were systematically raped by Burmese soldiers.
Other saw relatives
killed. Most have been burned from their homes. Many fled to sea because they
feared they faced certain death if they stayed.
And Thailand’s
answer is to send them back? We find that prospect to be poorly conceived and
outrageous when human rights in the 21st century are considered.
We cannot imagine
the fear and dread that would replace the smiles of the 72 women and children
at the refuge centre in Phang Nga, north of Phuket.
The Rohingya
menfolk, so we are told, are faring differently. They have no reason to smile.
Conditions in the Immigration centres where they are being held vary.
We are told that
the worst conditions of all are faced by the Rohingya men who are being held at
Ranong Immigration, on the border with Burma, north of Phuket and Phang Nga.
There, we are told,
about 100 remain captive in a room without sunlight and with little space to
move. The Ranong Immigration centre is intended for the speedy repatriation of
people to Burma, not for long-term detention.
In 2009, a group of
Rohingya were held in similar conditions. Two teenagers died in custody.
When the survivors
were eventually transferred to a more acceptable centre in Bangkok, some of
them emerged bent double and barely able to walk.
Is this still
acceptable in Thailand in 2013? We hope not.
A cavalcade of VIPs
arrived at Ranong Immigration centre today, escorted by police with flashing
lights, while we were outside.
We suspect it had
nothing to do with the plight of the people whose treatment inside is, so we
are told, a long way from that accorded to VIPs, or even everyday people.
However, like the
stateless and unwanted Rohingya, we live in hope. Perhaps tomorrow will bring
reason, humanity, and a solution.