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June 3, 2009 (DVB), Thailand and Bangladesh are to take action to stem the flow of Rohingya refugees into Burma's neighbouring countries and will help with repatriation back to Burma, said the Thai foreign minister yesterday.
The Muslim Rohingya are a minority in Burma and have the fled the country in increasing numbers in recent years.
Their plight hit the headlines in January this year when around 1000 Rohingya refugees landed ashore in Thailand, only to towed back out to sea by Thai authorities. Around 550 were thought to have died.
Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya said that he and his Bangladeshi counterpart had agreed tripartite dialogue with Burma to find a solution to the problem.
The Burmese government have initially been reluctant to grant repatriation to Rohingya who had fled the country's western Arakan state, claiming they would have to prove they came from Burma in the first place.
This would be almost impossible, however, given that Rohingya in Burma are denied legal status.
"There would need to be assurances from the government of [Burma] that the returning Rohingya people would not be penalized for leaving [Burma] in the first place," said Kitty McKinsey, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Commission for Refugees in Asia.
Thousands of Rohingya are believed to leave Burma each year for Malaysia and Thailand, while around 250,000 have sought refuge on the Bangladeshi side of the Burmese border.
"It's not at all clear that these people would voluntarily go back to Myanmar," McKinsey said.
"What would help the Rohingya would be if they were admitted to a screening process in Thailand to have their claims heard and to determine whether they are legitimate refugees," McKinsey explained.
Last month Human Rights Watch reported of the plight of the Rohingyas stating that Thailand's 'deterrence policy' in treating the Rohingyas has violated international legal obligations towards asylum seekers.
The report stated Thailand has claimed that Rohingya are merely economic refugees and are a threat to national security.
Reporting by Rosalie Smith