UN gains Rohingya access

Sukumpol wants global help to resettle migrants

Thailand will allow the UN's refugee agency to visit nearly 850 Rohingya migrants detained after raids on hidden camps in the South.

Rohingya migrants whoare being held at Thung Lung police station in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district. They areamong843 Rohingya detained in three operations in Songkhla in the past twoweeks. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

At least 843 Rohingya have been arrested in the past week in police sweeps of remote areas in rubber plantations near the border with Malaysia, leading the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to try to confirm whether any of them plan to seek asylum.

"The Thai authorities have agreed in principle to give us access to this group," said Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UNHCR office.

"We can't confirm the identity [of the migrants] without us first talking to them and doing a preliminary assessment."

She said no date had been agreed on yet but the UN was pushing to do the interviews as soon as possible.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said Wednesday the UN should play a greater role in addressing the migration of Rohingya.

He said the problem facing the Rohingya people requires engagement from the international community.

"The international community should step in and do more to resettle the Rohingya migrants," ACM Sukumpol said.

The government would follow standard procedures when handling the Rohingya migrants, the defence minister said.

"We have to take care of them when they come ashore," he said, noting the next step would be to send them to a third country.

"But the process takes time [and turns] it into a burden," he said, adding the government would do its best to prevent exploitation and trafficking of future migrants.

ACM Sukumpol said there is so far no reason to believe the migrants are linked to the insurgency in the deep South.

The recent waves of Rohingya migrants have prompted security authorities to meet state agencies to review standard operating procedures.

Maj Gen Manas Khongpaen, a senior officer attached to Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4, said a total of 2,817 illegal Rohingya migrants entered the country and were detained during October to December last year.

Isoc spokesman Ditthaporn Sasisamit said the short-term protocol is to provide the Rohingya migrants with assistance and then identify who are victims of human smuggling before sending them home or to a third country. He said the Foreign Ministry would seek a long-term solution in talks with Myanmar and the international community.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is collecting evidence to determine if human trafficking is to blame for the influx of Rohingya migrants.

Pol Lt Col Paisit Sangkhapong, director of DSI's Anti-Human Trafficking Centre, said the agency will accept it as a special case if evidence suggests human trafficking is involved.

The Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand (BRAT) Wednesday submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking help for the detained Rohingya.

NHRC member Niran Pitakwatchara said a sub-panel on civilian and political rights would meet state agencies on Jan 28 to discuss the issue.

He said the commission would dispute any attempt to return the Rohingya to Myanmar because they could face persecution upon their return.

Islamic spiritual leader Chularatchamontri Aziz Phitakkumpon and central Islamic committee secretary-general Pol Maj Gen Surin Parale Wednesday visited 300 Rohingya migrants held at immigration centres in Songkhla.

Mr Aziz's delegation gave 300,000 baht to the local administration to buy necessities for the migrants.

He called on the government to help resettle the migrants in safe locations.

Maj Gen Surin said a large number of Rohingya have fled to Thailand to escape violence in Myanmar and intend to settle in a third country.

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Writer: Bangkok Post & AFP