Claims that Thailand’s navy last week pushed 93 Rohingya ‘boat people’ out to sea where they drifted for 45 days have been flatly rejected by the Thai government.
A statement on the Thai foreign ministry website sought to clarify claims reportedly made by the Rohingya to Malaysian authorities who eventually picked the boat up that Thai navy officials had treated them inhumanely.
The statement said that navy officials had “established that the people were from Myanmar [Burma] and heading south and had no intention of entering Thailand”.
“Hence, in accordance with the established Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the RTN [Royal Thai Navy] vessels gave the people on board humanitarian assistance, which included the provision of food, water and fuel, and then allowed them to continue their journey.”
The boat was discovered last week drifting near to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, near to the border with Thailand. Up to 15,000 Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority from western Burma, are believed to flee persecution in Burma and neighbouring Bangladesh each year.
The recent accusations mirror an incident in January last year when photographs emerged of nearly 1,000 Rohingya who had washed up in boats on Thailand’s southeastern coast being towed back out to sea, where four of the boats sank.
Malaysian officials said they were investigating the latest Rohingya claims and would release the findings next week.
The Thai foreign ministry statement also rebuked claims that a number of Rohingya boats had arrived on islands close to the southern Thai resort of Phuket around the time of the recent incident. The statement said that “there had been no such boat arrivals”.
The Burmese government refuses to grant Rohingya legal status in the country, citing their distinct ethnic grouping, while Bangladesh has blocked attempts by the UN refugee agency to grant refugee status to the estimated 378,000 who remain in the country illegally.