Thais Protest Idea of Rohingya Refugee Center
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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Thais Protest Idea of Rohingya Refugee Center

By LAWI WENG Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Around one thousand protesters gathered in Thailand’s southern port city of Ranong yesterday to demonstrate against suggestions that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is seeking to establish a Rohingya refugee center in the area.

According to an official Thai report, the demonstrators were mostly local residents “acting on behalf of a Thai-[Burmese] human rights commission.” They formed a picket line with signs in Thai and English after they were blocked from entering Ranong Airport, where they planned to submit copies of a protest letter to representatives of the embassies of Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India. A Thai official later accepted the letter.

Rohingya boat people found off Indonesia on Tuesday said they had been towed out to sea and set adrift by Thai forces, fuelling allegations which have severely embarrassed Bangkok. (Photo: Reuters)
Local residents told The Irrawaddy that the protesters expressed concern about allowing large numbers of Rohingya, a Muslim minority group from Burma, to stay in the area. They said they feared it would lead to problems similar to those in Thailand’s southernmost provinces, where Islamic extremists have been waging a violent struggle for independence for years.

Although the protest ostensibly targeted visiting diplomats, it appears that it was mainly directed at the UNHCR, which also had representatives in Ranong yesterday to interview 66 Rohingya who were recently detained by the Thai authorities for illegally entering the country.

Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Asia, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the UN refugee agency has not held discussions with the Thai government about plans to set up a camp for the Rohingya in Ranong.

“We will talk to the Thai government about finding a solution for this group of people in the future,” said McKinsey. “Our position is no one from northern Arakan State should be sent back to Myanmar [Burma] against their will.”

Thailand’s role in the plight of the Rohingya has come under close international scrutiny over the past month, after the Indian and Indonesian navies rescued hundreds of boat people who claimed that the Thai navy had towed them out to sea in engineless boats with little food or water.

On Monday, nearly 200 Rohingya boat people rescued near the Indonesian island of Sumatra said they had been set adrift and left to die by the Thai navy three weeks earlier. It was the second such incident in less than a month.

Thailand has denied the charges, but has made it clear that it is not willing to recognize the Rohingya as refugees with a legitimate claim to asylum.

“Thailand has no intention of opening any refugee camp. We cannot afford to carry the burden of taking care of another 200,000 to 300,000 people,” Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, told reporters on Wednesday. 

“They come from Myanmar and that is where they will be deported to,” added Suthep, who oversees national security.

However, Burma’s ruling regime also refuses to accept the Rohingya, who they say are not among the country’s recognized ethnic groups. A commentary in the state-run newspaper Myanmar Ahlin, a junta mouthpiece, said that it would be “complicated” if Thailand repatriated the 66 Rohingya now being held in Ranong.

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