January 29, 2013
108 migrants saved as 6-month stay limit set
Security agencies will ask the government to build detention centres for Rohingya in Songkhla and Rayong.
Officials have yet to settle on the locations but say each batch of arriving migrants will not stay at the centres longer than six months.
Thailand will not accept the Rohingya as long-term refugees as this could lead to far greater numbers arriving, the National Security Council (NSC) said yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, 108 Rohingya migrants were rescued from a sunken boat at Mu Ko Surin Marine National Park in Phangnga.
The Rohingya were spotted floating about 1km off Surin Tai island in Khura Buri district about 2pm, Wattanasak Thongrakthong, deputy chief of Mu Ko Surin National Park, said.
The migrants comprised 69 men, 26 women and 13 children, including a one-month old baby, he said.
They said their boat broke down and they had to swim to shore, the park official said. All were living in a temporary shelter on the island.
They were the second batch of Rohingya migrants found in Khura Buri district in less than a week.
On Friday, marine police inspecting a boat off Ra island found 96 Rohingya migrants crammed into the vessel.
The NSC and other security agencies said yesterday they would ask the government to build three detention centres in Songkhla and Ranong to shelter the Rohingya, NSC secretary-general Lt Gen Paradon Pattanathaboot said.
They will be held at the detention centres for six months after their arrival, he said, and then will be sent back to Myanmar or other countries if anyone will take them.
Lt Gen Paradon met representatives of the armed forces and other security agencies on Friday to discuss the Rohingya problem. The six-month deadline has been set to prevent the migrants from becoming a long-term burden, he said.
News reports that Rohingya migrants are receiving aid after being rescued from forests in Songkhla have prompted others still in hiding to contact officials to seek help.
If Thailand offers to shelter Rohingya fleeing Rakhine state in Myanmar for longer than six months, it will have to deal with a far greater influx, Lt Gen Paradon said.
“Now we must contact the countries that want us to help the Rohingya and ask them if they are ready to accept the people,” he said. “The ambassadors of many nations met me and asked Thailand to help. I told them we are ready to help them but these countries must also accept Rohingya themselves.”
The Rohingya do not want to live in Thailand but want to work in a Muslim country. The government will continue to define them as illegal immigrants, the NSC chief said.
“We consider them only as illegal immigrants and do not upgrade their cases to human trafficking status. Otherwise, other countries will step in and it will be difficult to solve the problem and get them out,” he said.
An army source said Rohingya migrants want to go to Malaysia but Thailand will also ask the US, Australia and European countries to accept them. Thailand believes it could take up to three years to solve the problem.
More than 1,000 Rohingya migrants are being held in Songkhla and Ranong. The cost of caring for them since the first arrivals were rounded up early this month has reached 11 million baht, the source said.
The source said that while fair humanitarian care must be provided, the Rohingya must not allowed to become too comfortable and get entrenched in Thailand.
Meanwhile, 4th Army chief Lt Gen Udomchai Thamsarorat has reportedly transferred a lieutenant colonel and a lieutenant from the southern branch of the Internal Security Operations Command following a complaint they were involved in trafficking Rohingya in the South.
UN Refugee Agency representative M Golam Abbas thanked the government and locals for taking care of the Rohingya migrants.