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The Desperate Plight Of The Rohingya - Burma's Boat People

Updated on December 10, 2011
Rohingya Refugees At Sea
Rohingya Refugees At Sea | Source

The Rohingya

The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority group that has been suffering from persecution under the rule of Myanmar's military junta. Due to their racial and religious differences with the Burmans, they have been declared as "non citizens" and are essentially a stateless people. March 28, 1942, approximately 100,000 Rohingyas were massacred and another 80,000 had to flee from their ancestral homes, after a dispute with another ethnic group. In recent years the Rohingyas have been fleeing across the border into neighboring Bangladesh, and some have attempted to reach Thailand by boat. Because they have no legal identity, no passports or ID cards, they are not legally permitted to work. In order to survive, many work as illegal workers in Thailand and other nearby countries where they and their children are deprived of basic human rights.

Dec 18, 2009 - Over 400 Rohingya Abandoned At Sea
On the 18th of December 2009, the Indian coast guard rescued 107 Rohingya adrift in the middle of The Andaman Sea. Survivors told stories of being towed out to sea by the Thai navy, and forced onto a barge with their hands tied and left with no food or water. When some tried to resist, refusing to board the barge, they were thrown into the water with their hands and feet tied, and presumably drowned. It is believed that of the more than 400 men aboard the barge, some 300 jumped into a strong current on seeing a lighthouse in the distance but only a handful made it to shore.

Then again in late December of 2009, four boats without engines carrying 590 refugees were set adrift in open water. One vessel carrying approximately 193 people washed up in Aceh, a second with 150 Rohingya drifted to the uninhabited island of Tillanchang. Two more boats with 237 Rhongya on board were reported missing. Thai officials adamantly denied these claims, however BBC Television aired an investigative report showing footage from undercover reporters that shows Thai military vessels towing refugees out to sea.

Jan 22, 2011 - 91 People Wash Up On Andaman Islands
The Thai Foreign Ministry denied reports that the boat first landed in Thailand's Trang province on January 22, 2011, before washing up in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, more than 700 kilometers away. The boat was without a motor, and contained 91 ethnic Rohingyas seeking asylum. Despite heavy pressure from the international community, the Thai government seems to continue it's draconian policy towards illegal immigration.

Mar 7, 2011 - 35 Rohingya Vanish From A Thai Immigration Facility
In March of 2011, reported that 35 men and boys went missing from a Thai Immigration facility. A total of 68 Rohingya landed near a five-star resort on the tourist island of Phuket in a small motor less boat on January 31 of 2011. Thai Officials issued a statement that due to overcrowding, they were forced to transfer 35 men and boys (as young as age 12), to nearby Phang Nga. Soon after, Phuketwan was told that Phang Nga Immigration officials sought to have the group deported to Burma through the Mae Sot border crossing, complaining about the high cost of feeding the group two meals a day. It is believed that these 35 Rohingya were forced back into Burma where they will undoubtedly face more life threatening persecution from the Burmese government.

The treatment of the Rohingya from Thai officials may be shocking to some, however anyone who has spent any time in Thailand can likely tell you that they witness gross violations of human rights on a regular basis. It is not only Rohingya that are subject to abuse, but Burmese, Loatian and even Western tourists can be subject to human rights violations. Burmese migrant workers that legally work in Thailand are restricted in when they can be out on the street, they are not allowed to own a motorcycle for transportation, and forbidden to own a mobile phone.

In 2006, 12 tourists were intercepted while making a visa run, and locked up for overtaying their visas. The tourist police that made the arrests reportedly attempted to extort money from the foriegn tourists, and when they refused to pay they were arrested. All of these people were on a bus bound for the border en route to extend their visa (common practice in Southern Thailand). Of all the tourists that overstayed their visas, most had only overstayed by 1 day. It was later revealed that this was likely a result of a dispute between corrupt rival tour companies that offered visa services.

Thailand depends heavily on tourism as an important part of their economic success, and human rights concerns could be costly if these issues are not addressed. Reports of mafia taxi drivers and jet ski rental operators terrorizing tourists continue to spread. The land of smiles can be a lovely place to visit, however if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, your holiday could turn into a nightmare.


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