BANGKOK (AP) – A group of ethnic Rohingya left on a Thai island after a dangerous boat journey from Bangladesh should be given help and the opportunity to determine if they are refugees, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.
Rohingya have long been persecuted in Myanmar. More than 700,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military counterinsurgency campaign that the United States (US) and others have called genocide. Since then, Rohingya have attempted to leave both Myanmar and Bangladesh on perilous sea journeys to Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country relatively lenient to arriving migrants.
The voyages are often arranged by human trafficking gangs who charge large sums for passage on rickety old boats. Those boats that don’t sink can end up elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand, especially, tries to turn them away, usually after supplying fuel and food.
Boat passengers who make it ashore in Thailand are detained by authorities or sent by the traffickers to work in slave-like conditions.
The Thai navy said the 59 Rohingya left an island in the Andaman Sea had travelled from Bangladesh on large fishing boats. “But when they arrived, the ship’s captain brought these people to the island and said it was Malaysia,” the navy’s statement said.
The 31 men, 23 women, three boys and two girls were detained after being found on Saturday on the southern island of Koh Dong. The navy said it will continue to follow Thailand’s standard procedures, including providing humanitarian assistance, for people deemed to be immigrating illegally.