Phuket's Boatpeople: Gone Within 24 Hours
PHUKET: As Phuketwan predicted, the 90 Rohingya boatpeople who were forced to put ashore yesterday on a Phuket beach are no longer on Phuket.
From their predawn arrival at southern Phuket's Nai Harn beach on a flimsy timber craft that was not capable of carrying them onwards, all the men and boys have now disappeared within the space of 24 hours.
Some reports say that there may still be 12 Rohingya unaccounted for on Phuket. That may be true, or it may just be that there has been a miscount of the number of passengers.
What we can say with certainty is that the 90 men and boys who surrendered to Phuket police yesterday have all gone. Officials are not saying what happened.
The men and boys - 10 of them were teenagers, some just 13 years old - were probably carted off in a truck to Ranong, a port on the border between Thailand and Burma.
While briefly on Phuket they were allowed no contact with NGOs, no chance to press their case for refugees status, just carried off Phuket sometime in the dark last night.
In secrecy and contrary to international standards, Thailand is once again pressing the boundaries of how nations should deal with unexpected immigrants who arrive by sea.
This is a cause for considerable alarm because, although the details of the group were recorded at Chalong Police Station and again at the Immigration HQ in Phuket City, we were unable today to obtain a list of the names of the men and boys on the boat that landed on Phuket.
Aid agencies are perhaps even more alarmed by the lack of transparency in the process. But so far, there is no indication that the boatloads of Rohingya arriving along the Andaman coast, on Phuket and north and south of Phuket, are being mistreated.
The Royal Thai Navy has given an assurance that it is aware of the need for UN human rights standards to be maintained. Whether this is possible under a policy where there is no transparency is a moot point.
We cannot forget 2009 when the then Thai government secretly repelled unwanted boatpeople with the ''pushbacks'' policy, leading to the deaths of hundreds at sea.
The last known boatload of Rohingya to land on Phuket - about this time last year - were held in detention for several weeks before they also disappeared.
There is no suggestion of misdeeds. But it is believed the unwanted Rohingya, with no Burmese citizenship and therefore no hope of being returned to their homeland, are being tacitly handed back to people-smugglers.
Despite the Rohingya being among the most downtrodden people on the planet, the nations now engaging in conciliatory talks with Burma appear to be prepared to led concern for Burma's worst act of repression and subjugation slide for the time being.
We hope this attitude does not cost any lives.
We also are reminded of a less-than-prophetic paragraph that appeared in a local tabloid on January 28, 2009, soon after Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post revealed the reprehensible ''pushbacks'':
''Despite some rather dramatic 'reports' and opinions offered in local blogs and chat rooms, most resort managers and tourism officials contacted say they are not expecting the arrival of the Rohingyas on Phuket's beaches any time soon.''
Do not expect an upsurge of concern about the missing boatpeople.