Govt urged to extend 6-month help deadline
July 4, 2013
PHANGNGA: Humanitarian agencies are appealing for the government to extend its six-month period of protection offered to more than 2,000 displaced Rohingya. The deal is due to expire in three weeks.
Muslim humanitarian groups helping to care for the Rohingya say for of the migrants have already died in the shelters. A dozen others have fled the holding areas and five have filed lawsuits for trafficking and rape charges.
Most of the Muslim Rohingya sailed from Bangladesh and Myanmar where they faced persecution, arriving on Thai shores since mid-January.
That pledge to provide shelter ends on July 26.
During the past six months, however, the government has provided no clear legal or policy support to care for the displaced people.
Immigration authorities chose to segregate the Rohingya and place the men in detention facilities scattered around the country, from southernmost one in Padang Besar to Rayong in the East and Ubon Ratchathani in the Northeast.
With the men segregated, many families were split up. The separation was a cause of trauma for some women, while the yearning to reunite with their families opened up opportunities for them to be exploited.
Some of the detainees sneaked out or fled the shelters altogether (see table).
Humanitarian agencies including the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), the international Organisation of Migrantion (IOM), local Muslim communities and the National Human Rights Commission have provided the displaced Rohingya with food and other forms of support.
Still, those under the care of shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security have been vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers.
Even though immigration detention centres and state-run shelters operate under standard guidelines, flexibility has often been the norm as officials constantly run into a lack of interpreters. Some shelter operators reportedly receive translation assistance from people involved with human trafficking rings.
A case in point is the Thai police officer in Phangnga who was recently charged with trafficking a Rohingya refugee and her children, while his alleged accomplice, who served as a translator at the shelter, was charged with rape.
Officials caring for Rohingya refugees have expressed their frustration. They have to cope with communication problems and uncertainty about the timeframe of the migrants’ detention
“They are not criminals. How can we keep them under 24-hour surveillance,” an official at a shelter in the South said.
Immigration centres are also ill-equipped to house refugees for long periods of time.
“We are seeking approval to build a fence so they (the detainees) can exercise or play soccer in the open compound. We do not know when the government will come up with a firm idea of where to house them,” said the official from one of the immigration centres in Songkhla.
Despite diplomatic sources saying several Muslim countries have pledged to contribute cash if Thailand builds a one-stop detention facility for the Rohingya, the issue is a sensitive one for local people.
Villagers in Nakhon Si Thammarat recently held a protest against a planned upgraded to a Border Police Patrol facility to serve as a shelter for the Rohingya.
Resettlement options also remain elusive.
UNHCR spokewoman Vivian Tan said many of the 2,000 displaced Rohingya left their homes because of inter-communal violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Since the situation there is still tense, repatriation is not yet possible.
The UNHCR has appealed to authorities to extend the six-month temporary protection.
The agency also asked the government to relocate the Rohingya to a site that is less crowed and allow family reunions for those who are currently held in different locations, Ms Tan said.