Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday opposed any plan to set up a permanent refugee camp for the 850 Rohingya illegal migrants detained in raids in the South this month.
He said setting up the camp could backfire in the long run as it would make Thailand a target country for illegal migrants.
"We have to get them proper help but we also have to consider it from a security perspective. If we take them in, it could cause long-term problems," he said.
"The longer they are allowed to stay, the larger the number will become. The Rohingya will continue to come here so long as the problem [of violent persecution] exists in their country of origin [Myanmar]."
He said security agencies have raised similar concerns with the government.
There are about 850 illegal Rohingya migrants being detained in the southern provinces following three raids earlier this month in Songkhla.
Gen Prayuth said Thailand currently has nine shelters that are housing about 130,000 refugees, many of them from Myanmar. Most of those have been awaiting resettlement in a third country for several years.
The army chief said that in principle, the detained Rohingya are illegal migrants rather than refugees, and Thai laws involving illegal entry make it clear that they must be prosecuted before being sent back to Myanmar.
However, he said that at this stage Thailand should provide assistance to the Rohingya migrants until a long-term solution can be figured out.
"We must work out a solution that is acceptable to both sides, otherwise we will be branded inhumane," he said.
The army chief said the government is investigating the recent influx of Rohingya migrants to find out if any military personnel were involved. Those involved in human trafficking would face both criminal and disciplinary action, he said.
The Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand (Brat) yesterday submitted a five-point petition to Thai Islamic spiritual leader Chularatchamontri Aziz Pitakkumpon, seeking help for the Rohingya migrants.
The petition called on Thailand to work with the United Nations in granting refugee status to the migrants so they can stay in the country before being resettled elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in Songkhla's Hat Yai district yesterday, a group of eight Rohingya migrants were transferred to Thung Tam Sao police station due to concerns for their safety.
The group had originally been staying at a mosque in tambon Chalung because the state's detention premises were full.
However, mosque staff told police yesterday that five men, believed to be members of a human trafficking gang, had approached them and asked to take the migrants with them.
Staff became suspicious and alerted police, prompting the five men to leave and the migrants to be transferred into police protection.
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Writer: Wassana Nanuam & Waedao Harai