We’ll Put Rohingya on Desert Island: Thai PM
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We’ll Put Rohingya on Desert Island: Thai PM

By THE IRRAWADDY Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej last week said Thailand would place Rohingya refugees on a deserted island, according to the Bangkok Post.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to northern Arakan State in western Burma. Descended from 7th century Arab traders, the estimated 3 million Rohingya have suffered a history of persecution in Burma and many have fled to Bangladesh as refugees due to land confiscation and to escape human rights abuses such as murder, rape, army brutality and forced labor. Many are now seeking new lives in Thailand.

A group of Rohingya, who had starved or dehydrated to death after their wooden trawler stalled at sea, was found by Sri Lankan navy on early March. (Photo: Reuters)
''To stop the influx, we have to keep them in a tough place,” Samak was quoted as saying by the English-language Thai daily newspaper on Saturday. “Those who are about to follow will have to know life here will be difficult [so] they won't sneak in.”

The Thai premier made the statement after emerging from a two-hour meeting of the National Security Council last week, saying that the navy is exploring a deserted island to place the Rohingya refugees living in Thailand.

Samak also suggested that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should step in and provide financial support to the Thai government which had shouldered the Rohingya burden for quite some time.

The plight of Burma’s Rohingya has long been one of the worst stains on Burma’s deplorable human rights record.

In 1991, waves of Rohingya refugees fled across Burma’s western border to Bangladesh to escape oppression. Despite efforts by the UN to repatriate them under an agreement between Bangladesh and Burma, many Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh.

Since early 1990s, the Rohingya have traveled by land and sea into Malaysia and southern Thailand where they hope to find understanding from people of the same faith—Sunni Muslim.

Last week the Thai army's Supreme Commander Gen Boonsrang Niampradit told reporters after a meeting with governors of 31 border provinces that an alarming rate of Rohingya have been sneaking into Thailand. He did not give the exact number of Rohingya in Thailand.

The influx of Rohingya has brought unwelcome attention from Thai authorities, nervous of any incidents at a time of heightened fears of terrorist activity in southern Thailand.

However, there is no evidence that any Rohingya have been linked with the unrest in southern Thailand.

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