The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) is bracing itself for a possible new influx of Rohingya fleeing fighting that has escalated in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The RTN's move came after clashes between Myanmar police and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Rakhine state on Friday.
The RTN expects some Rohingya may sail their boats from Rakhine state via the Andaman Sea through Thai waters, then to Malaysia and Australia. More than 100 people have died since Friday as scores of men purportedly from the ARSA ambushed Myanmar police posts with knives, guns and homemade explosives, killing at least a dozen security force members.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled towards Bangladesh, but authorities there have refused to let many in, with an untold number of people -- mainly women and children -- stranded along the border zone. The impoverished country already hosts about 400,000 Rohingya refugees.
Officials in Cox's Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar that is home to several large refugee camps, have been instructed not to allow any "illegal entry" by Rohingya, Abdur Rahman, a senior government official said.
In Thailand, navy spokesman Chumpol Lumpiganon said the government and the navy are preparing to deal with hundreds of Rohingya migrants who flee violence by boats and often drift into Thai waters. The Third Fleet, which oversees the Andaman Sea, and the navy operation centre, has been put on alert along the Andaman coast from Ranong to Satun, he said.
The navy will provide assistance to the migrants on humanitarian grounds, he said, adding authorities will not push them out to sea if they do not plan to travel to a third country. If they are spotted in Thai waters, the navy will extend assistance in line with international practices.
Adm Chumpol said Thailand is usually a transit point, not a destination, for Rohingya people who prefer to seek shelter in Muslim dominated countries. "We can help by leading their boats to the direction of the country they want to go," he said.
He said navy chief Adm Na Areenij has ordered the Third Fleet and related units to stock up on relief supplies including food, water and medicine to hand out to the boat migrants.
In 2015 the navy turned away a boat carrying about 300 Rohingya migrants found adrift in Thai waters, pushing it back out to sea after providing them with relief supplies.
The boat was spotted about 17km off the southern island of Li Peh in the Andaman Sea off Satun's Muang district. The navy claimed the boat, heading to Malaysia and Indonesia, developed engine problems and drifted into Thai waters.
Immigration Bureau chief Nathathorn Prousoontorn said yesterday the office will work closely with the navy and the marine police in handling Rohingya migrants. He said the bureau has sent its officers to gather information in areas where the Rohingya may make landfall but so far there are no reports about them.