Phuket (Agenzia Fides) - On January 1, 2013, near Bon Island in Phuket province, Thai authorities intercepted a boatload of 73 Rohingya migrants – including as many as 20 children, some as young as 3 – that contained likely asylum seekers. After providing food, water, and other supplies to the passengers and refueling the boat, Thai authorities initially planned to push the boat back to sea en route to Malaysia’s Langkawi Island. When they found that the rickety, overcrowded boat had cracks and that many passengers were too weak to endure a stormy sea voyage, the authorities brought the group ashore to the Phuket Immigration Office. On January 2, two trucks with all 73 Rohingya were heading to Ranong province for deportation to Burma. According to humanitarian sources, to limit this phenomenon, the Thai government should immediately stop the deportation of these refugees. The authorities should allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), free access to these and other refugees from Burma's Arakan state and determine whether they are asylum seekers and if they are qualified for refugee status.
"The Thai government should scrap its inhumane policy of summarily deporting Rohingya, who have been brutally persecuted in Burma, and honor their right to seek asylum," reads a note by Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Each year hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Burma’s Arakan State flee repression by the Burmese military government and dire poverty. The situation significantly worsened in late 2012. In addition to the latest arrivals in the province of Phuket new boats from Burma are expected. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual victim of persecution has the right to seek asylum. Although Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country has the obligation not to return anyone who would be at risk. The organization Human Rights Watch said that the Thai government should ensure that its laws protect the Rohingya. Effective UNHCR screening of all boat arrivals would help the government to determine who is entitled to refugee status. It is crucial for protecting Rohinga asylum seekers and the government should allow it and halt forcibly returns repatriation of these boat people. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 03/01/2013)