Military warns against setting up Rohingya camp

BANGKOK - Thailand would have to shoulder full responsibility for the wellbeing of the Rohingya refuges if a camp was up for them in this country, Supreme Commander Thanasak Patimapakorn warned on Friday.

  • Published: 18/01/2013 at 03:17 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

"It is up to the government to decide whether or not a Rohingya refugee camp is to be established," Gen Thanasak said.

"In terms of humanitarian assistance, we'll initially provide them with food and shelter in accordance to regulations, but in the long run they'll have to leave.

"Foreign countries want Thailand to help the Rohingya, but they don't offer to help us with it."

He called on all relevant agencies to jointly find a solution to the Rohingya problem.

The supreme commander said Thailand was merely a transit point for the Rohingya migrants, not their intended destination. They were not invading the country, he added.

Rohingya migrants are being held at Thung Lung police station in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who is in charge of national security, said the Rohingya migrants must be transported to other countries. It was a very delicate issue, he added. 

"The international community might see Thailand as being cruel if we turn away from them, but we must protect the country's interests  at the same time," Mr Chalerm said.

He said the Foreign Ministry is now taking care of the problem.

"The Interior Ministry won't come into play if there's no need to set up a refugee camp in the country," Mr Chalerm said.

He said the best way to handle the problem is to send the migrants off to other countries. But they must not be deported back to Myanmar or Thailand would suddenly find itself on the end of a stream of criticism.

The issue has not been discussed with the government of Myanmar, according to the deputy premier.

Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand in Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said so many Rohingya people are migrating because they have been denied citizenship in Myanmar and Bangladesh. 

Mr Sunai is urging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to press Myanmar into granting citizenship to the minority ethnic group. 

However, it might be difficult to pressure Bangladesh, which is controlled by a totalitarian regime, he added.

Asked about the UN's proposal for a Rohingya refugee camp in Thailand, Mr Sunai said it was more likely such facility would be located in Malaysia or Indonesia. 

Wisut Binlaatah, director of the Sheikhul Islam Office in the South, said the Rohingya refugees will be assisted in two phases. 

First, the Thai public will be asked to donate food and clothing. In the long term, the office will call on the Thai government to encourage Myanmar to address its ethnic conflicts.

Unless the situation settles and there is peace in Myanmar, Thailand should not look to sending them back, Wisut added. He also asked other Muslim countries to offer asylum to the Rohingya.

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Villagers in the southern province of Pattani have donated food and other supplies to the to Rohingya refugees, who an ethnic war in Myanmar. 

The head of shelter for families and children,  Takorn Hemwichian, said 22 Rohingya, 18 men and four women, have been offered accommodation there. They were captured after being smuggled into Thailand through tambon Padang Besa, Sadao district of Songkhla province.

Mr Takorn said that the building's existing guestroom was not large enough to accommodate all of the refugees, so they had to build  another one.

He admitted that staff initially had  some problems in communicating  with the new arrivals, but a Myanmar worker had now been hired as an interpreter.

Local peoplehave been donating food to the shelter. However, the refugees were not accustomed to Thai food. Instead, Mr Takorn is asking the people to give cash which could be used to buy what they could eat.

One Rohingya woman said that her husband had been taken by soldiers in Myanmar and she had no idea of his fate. She is now left with their seven children to care for.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said on Friday the Rohingya people who were smuggled into Thailand will be subject to Thai laws but will be treated in accordance with international human rights standards,

Mr Manas, the Department of Information director-general, said the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN refugee have offered their assistance.

The government also intends to consult with Muslim leaders on how to best address the problem in the long-run, he said.

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