By Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian
PHUKET: Concerns are growing for the physical and mental health of 33 Rohingya, some as young as 14, who have been held in isolation in a cramped cell on Phuket since February.
One teenage Rohingya is believed to have recently fallen sick and been admitted to a Phuket hospital, with others are also thought to be suffering the effects of prolonged incarceration in cramped conditions.
''Everything's fine,'' said Phuket's Director of Immigration, Colonel Panuwat Ruamrak when a reporter inquired about the condition of the boatpeople after more than five months in Phuket's Immigration cells.
''When people fall sick, we take them to Vachira Hospital in Phuket City and then bring them back.''
When asked whether the boat people had access to sunlight and exercise, Colonel Panuwat did not respond.
Two teenage Rohingya previously died in custody in another Thai Immigration facility after having been kept for months in a small room without access to sunlight or exercise.
It is believed that the would-be refugees on Phuket are beginning to suffer depression and more serious mental disorders because their incarceration has no end, and they have no contact with their families in northern Burma or Bangladesh.
Phuketwan glimpsed the Phuket Rohingya, outcast Muslims deprived of citizenship in their homeland, as a security camera showed them praying in the cell back in April.
Previous visits to the cells at Immigration in Phuket City leave us in no doubt that the conditions are too cramped for 33 people, and that it remains a breach of rights to have boys as young as 14 incarcerated with adults.
Nothing is known of the fate of 35 other Rohingya, apprehended at the same time when the group's ricketty boat arrived on a beach in southern Phuket in the dark on January 31.
Because there was not space to hold all the boatpeople on Phuket and no room at a larger Immigration facility in Ranong, on the border with Burma, those 35 were sent to a holding facility in Phang Nga, the province north of Phuket.
Among them were more teenage boys, including a 12-year-old.
Local authorities in Phang Nga have since declined to reveal anything about their location or condition.
The arrival of the boatload of 68 men and boys on the popular holiday island of Phuket in January remind the world that no solution has been found to the plight of the Rohingya, a stateless minority persecuted within Burma, barely tolerated in Bangladesh, and pushed back out to sea from Thailand in a notorious secret breach of human rights in 2008 and 2009.
Two teenagers from the first boatload of Rohingya to reach Thailand after Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post newspaper revealed the ''pushbacks'' died in custody in Ranong, months later.
The remaining survivors were bent double and suffering from lack of space to exercise or fully move when they were transferred to a better facility in Bangkok.
The colonel in charge of the Ranong facility had previously assured Phuketwan that the Rohingya were being well-treated and happy to no longer be at sea.
The election of the Pheu Thai party last Sunday brings the Rohingya saga full circle. The revelation that the boatpeople were being pushed back out to sea came soon after a Democrat Party government had been appointed to rule Thailand.
It is believed the decision to push back the boatpeople was made by the Democrats' predecessor, a remnant of fugitive Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's original Thai Rak Thai party.
On Sunday, Thaksin's sister Yingluck led the poll landslide into power of the Pheu Thai Party.
In more than two years of Democrat rule, nothing changed for the Rohingya. The boatpeople on Phuket and elsewhere are likely to be kept in cramped cells indefinitely as a warning to others not to come ashore in Thailand.