Police take action after Rohingya roundup

SONGKHLA - Police have filed charges against eight suspects in connection with trafficking more than 700 Rohingya migrants into the country on their way to work in Malaysia.

The Rohingya from Myanmar were rounded up by authorities on Thursday and Friday and detained in four separate locations. They will be sent back to their countries.

Another 307 Rohingya, including women and children, were rounded up in Songkhla province on Friday.(Photo by Vichayant Boonchote)

Police did not reveal the names of the suspects, saying only that two of them were Thais, two were Myanmar nationals and four were Rohingya.

Pol Col Krissakorn Pleetanyawong, deputy commander of Songkhla police, said they were charged with arms possession and sheltering illegal migrants.

Two more suspects, one of them a local politician, will be summoned for questioning about whether they are involved in the operation, he added.

The officer did not name the other two suspects. But the crackdown on Thursday took place at a rubber plantation on the border with Malaysia in Sadao district of Songkhla province. The plantation is owned by Prasit Lemlae, deputy mayor of the Padang Besar municipality.

Mr Prasit could not be reached for comment on the issue.

Immigration officers and local police detained 397 Rohingya on Thursday. Another 307 were rounded up near the same location on Friday.

They were divided into three groups and detained at the Padang Besar immigration office, and at three police stations in tambon Padang Besar, Sadao district and tambon Khlong Ngae.

Pol Maj Thanusilp Duangkaewngam, chief of the Songkhla immigration bureau, said all would be deported to Myanmar as they had entered Thailand illegally.

The migrants told police that they had voluntarily left their country to work in Malaysia by travelling through Thailand.

But Pol Maj Thanusilp was not convinced, saying that more investigations would be undertaken to take action against the traffickers behind the case.

He said the refugees rounded up on Friday included 230 men, 31 women, 22 boys and 24 girls. The group rounded up on Thursday also included children and women in the group who appeared to be exhausted and were crammed under a sheet-metal roof.

The Rohingya told police on Thursday that they had been kept on the rubber plantation for more than three months and were still waiting to go to Malaysia.

Once in Malaysia, they were to be sold off by agents for 60,000 to 70,000 baht to work on fishing boats.

The Rohingya now being detained are the last of some 2,000 that Thai and Myanmar traffickers had brought into Thailand on 10-wheeled trucks via Ranong.

The rest had already been sent out of Sadao district, they said.

Sectarian violence in Myanmar involving the Rohingya has left hundreds dead and many more homeless in recent months.

The United Nations estimates the Rohingya population in Myanmar at 800,000, but the government does not recognise them as one of the country's 135 ethnic groups, and most are denied citizenship.

Rohingya speak a Bengali dialect and resemble Muslim Bangladeshis, with darker skin than most people in Myanmar. They are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are heavily discriminated against, but Bangladesh also refuses to accept them as citizens.

Last week, Thai authorities deported back to Myanmar 73 Rohingya who had been found adrift on a boat off Phuket.

Related search: Rohingya, Myanmar, Thailand

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Writer: Vichayant Boonchote and News Agencies