ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
74 Rohingya deported amid opposition from rights group
Immigration Police have deported 74 Rohingya migrants who became stranded off Phuket on Sunday despite opposition from human rights groups.
The migrants, 12 of whom were children, were detained on Sunday morning after the fishing trawler they were travelling on ran out of fuel. They were believed to have been heading for Malaysia or Indonesia, but their boat became lost after failing to follow a larger vessel that was guiding it.
The trawler drifted into Phuket waters and was escorted to port in Koh Bon in Muang district by local authorities on Tuesday.
Phuket governor Maitree Inthusut said the province had initially provided the Rohingya migrants with food and 200 litres of fuel to help them on their way, as is usual practice. He insisted sufficient food and beverage had been provided to the migrants even though they had entered Thai waters illegally.
But provincial authorities then decided against sending the migrants back out to sea, opting to return them to Myanmar by land instead.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch denounced the decision, urging Thailand to "scrap its inhumane policy of summarily deporting Rohingya, who have been brutally persecuted in [Myanmar], and honour their right to seek asylum".
The group said some of the deported Rohingya were falling into the hands of people smugglers waiting for them at the border.
"Those unable to pay the smuggling fees are forced into labour to pay off the fees, condemning them to situations amounting to human trafficking," the group said.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had earlier requested access to the Rohingya migrants and asked authorities not to send them back to where their lives and freedom may be in danger, said the commission's Bangkok-based spokeswoman, Vivian Tan.
Human rights lawyer Surapong Kongchantuk had also earlier joined others in calling for the group's welfare situation to be made public.
"This is different from the groups [of Rohingya] that came ashore in Thailand a couple of years ago, as now there are quite a number of women and children who look like asylum seekers rather than migrants," Mr Surapong said.
Despite the fact the migrants had already been deported, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) yesterday called on the authorities to give United Nations refugee agencies access to the Rohingya migrants.
They called on authorities to suspend the deportation of the group.
Kraisak Choonhavan, AIPMC vice-president, said the UNHCR should have been given unhindered access to the migrants to determine if they were eligible for refugee status before they were sent back by truck.
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