Uncertain Rohingya stuck in limbo
Around 2,000 Rohingya are trapped in limbo in two dozen government-approved shelters around Thailand, often without recourse to the legal system despite abuses during their flight from Myanmar.
- Published: 3/07/2013 at 05:47 PM
- Newspaper section: topstories
Officials indicate that the Muslims who fled their homes, often because of persecution, now have little hope for the immediate future as they languish in government custody.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised the international community to care for the Rohingya for six months, while the United Nations and other groups tried to come up with a solution for the shattered emigrants from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area.
That deadline runs out on July 26, but there is no more hope for the Rohingya today than there was last January, during a wave of flights into Thailand.
The decision to shelter the Rohingya made life tough from the start, and it has not got much better. One serious drawback, for example, is the necessity to use already overcrowded immigration detention facilities. This has split families, as men and women are housed separately at the facilities.
International aid agencies have got involved, and supply food and basic essential items. They include the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), Muslim communities, and National Human Rights Commission.
These and other groups have visited, interviewed and recorded details of the Rohingya, but aside from giving them some aid items are powerless to provide hope. In addition, the groups say the Rohingya remain vulnerable and prone to trafficking gangsters. Officials say those at greatest risk are in shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
At the 24 official holding centres for the immigrants (see chart below), there are wildly different standards, for reasons that range from a simple lack of interpreters at the local level to pressure or intimidation from human trafficking rings that answer to influential local figures.
The Rohingya themselves often are to blame for problems. Officials say many lack education. Quarrels often occur, especially among those who want to leave the official camp to try to contact their loved ones in other locations. Many have tried to sneak out of the shelters to try to travel to Malaysia.
Aid workers said human trafficking and rape cases in Phang Nga province illustrated the vulnerability of the Rohingya. Officials in charge of the immigrants were dispirited and tired, especially by the communications problem, and uncertainty about how long the boat people would be staying.
"They are not criminals after all, so how can we keep 24-hour surveillance on them?" asked a shelter official in southern Thailand rhetorically.
Immigration officials share the problem. "We are seeking approval to build a fence so that at least they can roam around exercising or play football within this open-air compound while waiting for the government comes up with a concrete plan on where else to house them,” said one official at a Songkhla immigration centre.
Villagers in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Cha-uad district have protested against planned improvements of the facilities used to house the Rohingya - former Border Police Patrol housing.
The government was reportedly searching for remote areas of Songkhla or Prachuap Khiri Khan province to erect a type of refugee centre. Some Muslim countries have pledged to donate for a one-stop detention facility for the Rohingya, diplomatic sources said.
According to a survey carried out by the UNHCR, at least 60 Rohingya people were Bangladeshi citizens. The UN group was trying to coordinate efforts to repatriate them.
UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan said her agency had interviewed all of the approximately 2,000 Rohingya men, women and children in the shelters and immigration detention centres.
"Many say they left because of the inter-communal violence (between Buddhists and Muslims) in Myanmar's Rakhine state last year," she said. "Some of the women and children had planned to join their menfolk in Malaysia."
Because the situation in Rakhine remains unsettled, the UNHCR has appealed to Thai authorities to extend the six-month temporary protection promise, and to relocate the Rohingya to a site in Thailand that is less crowded and allows for family reunification.
However, immigration officials with long experience with the Rohingya said that while half of the Rohingya detainees were legitimately fleeing persecution, at least half were economic refugees hoping to get jobs and send money back home, and had no desire to be sent to third countries.
About the author
- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
- Position: Reporter