The Thai government should quickly decide on temporary shelters for displaced Rohingya people until practical longer-term solutions are reached, says a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Dr Niran Pitakwatchara said he was concerned that the Rohingya refugees were being deprived of basic rights while under temporary care in Thailand.
After drifting at the sea and being towed into various islands in southern Thailand since early this year, the migrants have been kept in scattered shelters and detention centres nationwide.
Now it is time for the government to decide what to do next, said Dr Niran.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled persecution in Myanmar over the past year and many have ended up in Thailand.
They faced poor temporary shelter, exploitation by trafficking gangs, and extortion from smuggling gangs during their stay in Thailand, Dr Niran said at a seminar on the refugee problem.
He suggested that something could still be done despite the seeming lack of long-term policy measures.
“Though Thailand is not a signatory [to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention], relevant ministries could actually expedite their authority in providing decent and appropriate shelters for these people, based on human rights principles in the Thai Constitution,” said Dr Niran.
Any local communities identified as sites for temporary shelters should be closely consulted before the Rohingya are relocated, he said.
“Being a refugee is not criminal. The Rohingya are not illegal immigrants,” he said, arguing against the use of detention centres.
“There is adequate religious and community support for the Rohingya while they wait for appropriate durable solutions.”
The Immigration Act, he said, gave authorities the discretion to move out the Rohingya to a proper place outside of immigration detention centres.
The need for a better solution has become more urgent, agreed Saowanee Khomepatr, director of the Anti-Trafficking in Women and Children division of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
Whatever decisions are made, policymakers should implement them quickly since separated families have become disheartened and some were being lured by gangsters to meet up with their families in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Maung Kyaw Nu, president of the Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand, said Asean and the world should no longer allow Myanmar to permit genocide against the Rohingya, who were a legitimate ethnic group inside Myanmar.
The Rohingya are Aryan descendants of Mongoloid origin and the Myanmar government must return citizenship to them, he said.
Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch said the Rohingya exodus in the past year included more women and children as conditions inside their country of origin deteriorated.
Communication problems and uncertainty in their future have made them unwilling to cooperate with fact-finding and informal registration, said Mr Sunai.
He proposed that the Thai government work with the UN refugee agency to check numbers and carry out formal registration while the migrants are under the temporary protection of Thailand.
He also said the government remained lax in uncovering and prosecuting trafficking gangs. In some cases the gangs have operated with the cooperation or active participation by Thai police and military figures, activists have claimed.
The one positive policy development, he said, had been that the Yingluck Shinawatra government had promised not to deport the Rohingya against their will, while the previous Democrat administration allowed them to be quietly pushed back at the border.
Surapong Kongchuntuk, a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said authorities should communicate and coordinate with Thai society to better accommodate the temporary stay of the Rohingya.
“The Thai government has prepared a set of policies on illegal immigrants which include the Rohingya but the National Security Council has dragged this out without launching specific measures,” he said.
He suggested that for a start, all coastal and inland officials should be told not to deport or push Rohingya boat people back to sea.
Trafficking syndicates, especially the uniformed and civilian officials in their ranks, should be also punished to give a stern warning to traffickers, added Mr Surapong.