Wednesday, September 11, 2013
First Rohingya arrive in southern Thailand by boat before sailing season
A boat with more than 200 Rohingya men onboard has been found at a beach in southern Thailand, after fleeing ongoing and escalating violence at home.
The Phuketwan Tourism News reports that the men were found on a beach in Satun province, with thousands more expected to follow in coming months.
The boat has arrived well ahead of what is considered as the safe sailing season, which is only due to start in late October.
Three other boats are reported to have set off from Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state but their locations are unknown.
Local police have been holding the Rohingya while waiting for the Thai army to step in.
It is unclear what will happen to the men as Thailand's immigration centres and prisons are already full with other Rohingya who have been arrested in the last 8 months.
But with the sailing season imminent, it is expected Thai authorities will continue to be confronted by more boats as conditions at home worsen.
Late last year, violence broke out between Buddhists and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The fighting displaced 140,000 people, according to the United Nations.
It is estimated at least 35,000 Rohingya men, women and children fled the country by boat last season and some estimate that number could triple this year.
Thailand says it protects all Rohingya in custody, but there are reports 8 prisoners have died in prison, while many have become victims of human trafficking.
The Thai government now says it will take up to a year, compared to the 6-month deadline it initially set, to decide on what to do with the Rohingya being held in the country.
The decision is favoured by hardliners, who say it would send a strong message to other Rohingya that they cannot make Thailand their home.