Rohingya asylum seekers in detention in the Indian Andaman islands have alleged shocking abuse at the hands of Thai authorities earlier this year, in a repeat of treatment that Rohingya asylum seekers were subjected to in 2009, and that Thai authorities claimed to have stopped.
Around 91 Rohingya were reportedly rescued by the Indian Navy adrift in the Bay of Bengal, who alleged that they had been pushed out to sea by the Thai Navy in a vessel with no engine and only 100 litres of water. 25 had to be admitted to hospital after their rescue.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post, one Shaik Montaz said; “After torturing us for five days in Thailand, the Thai army handed us over to the Thai navy. The navy soldiers loaded us on to our boat on January 18 and we found that the engine was missing. For more than two days our boat was towed by the navy boat until we were hundreds of miles away from the Thai coast.”
The men were not picked up by the Indian navy till February 5, but the treatment they allege will also cast doubt over Thailand’s human rights record;
“The soldiers beat us badly with wooden batons. They forced us to go nude and stay in seawater for more than five hours every day,” Sohail Ali told the South China Morning Post.
“Using cigarette lighters, the Thai soldiers burned the beards of some of us.”
Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed after similar incidents with Rohingya asylum seekers surfaced in January 2009 that there would be “no repeats”, adding that his government had demonstrated its “sincerity”.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) told DVB that they were never given access to the 91 in either Thailand or India and therefore were unable to verify whether they were indeed the same asylum seekers. Kitty McKinsey from UNHCR did however state that Thailand had been “generous” in accommodating refugees and that they were working well with both the Thai and Indian governments.
Whilst a statement from the Thai authorities claimed that; “It must be emphasised that this action was in line with their wish”….”Thai authorities have no knowledge as to how this group of people may have travelled onwards after they departed from Thai territory.”
This comes as local press in Thailand’s Phuket reported that 33 Rohingya were deported back to Burma on the 19 of August after being detained since January, but reports could not verify what had happened to these detainees.
Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian from the local Phuket Wan news web site did however claim to DVB that the local head of immigration had started pushing all Burmese, regardless of ethnicity, back instead of detaining and attempting to fine illegal Burmese migrants. This could not be verified and it was not sure for how long and how official any such actions or policy were.
As ever with the Rohingya, repatriation is problematic as the Burmese government deny their claims to citizenship and as a result they are left without official documentation, but despite this it was alleged by local media outlets such as the Kaladan Press’ Tin Soe that they were coerced into voting for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in last year’s elections, a clear breach of election laws.
The Rohingya ethnic group are considered by groups such as Refugees International to be amongst; “the most persecuted in the world”, with alleged religious and ethnic persecution widespread in their native northern Arakan state. As a result some 200,000 are believed to have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh whilst others have sought asylum further afield in Malaysia.