Navy pushes migrants out to sea

Navy pushes migrants out to sea

Govt defers Rohingya camp move till summit

An air force helicopter dropped food, but officials pushed off these 300 Rohingya and said there would be no refuge at least until the May 29 international meeting. (AFP photo)
An air force helicopter dropped food, but officials pushed off these 300 Rohingya and said there would be no refuge at least until the May 29 international meeting. (AFP photo)

Thailand turned away a boat carrying at least 300 Rohingya migrants found adrift in Thai waters Thursday, pushing it back out to sea.

The decision to push away the boat about 17km off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea in Satun's Muang district is contrary to the government's proposal for temporary camps to shelter Rohingya migrants in Thailand.

However, the Royal Thai Navy said Thursday they provided them with relief supplies before turning them away. Malaysia and Indonesia over the past few days have also pushed thousands of migrants back to sea.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who is responsible for national security, said the government will wait for the outcome of the international conference on regional sea migrant problems on May 29 in Bangkok before it decides whether to set up temporary shelters for trafficked Rohingya migrants.

Conference participants will include senior officials from 15 affected countries together with representatives from international organisations.

Countries directly affected by the problem and who are invited to the meeting include Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Lt Cdr Weerapong Nakpradit, chief of the 491 air and coastal unit under the 3rd Navy Region, said, having detected the boat, six trawlers were told to give the weak-looking migrants food and medicine before letting them continue their journey.

The migrants said the boat had engine problems and drifted into Thai waters and that they wanted to go to Malaysia and Indonesia, Lt Cdr Weerapong said.

Deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had already been briefed about the migrants on the boat and had ordered the 3rd Navy Region to conduct an inspection.

Gen Prayut made it clear that if the migrants wanted to make landfall in Thailand, the country is willing to provide them with humanitarian assistance, although the migrants must comply with legal proceedings relating to migrants, he said.

But after navy officials spoke with migrants on the boat, the migrants said they did not intend to enter Thailand, but wanted to go to third countries, Maj Gen Sansern said.

The migrants also asked the authorities to repair the boat engines and requested drinking water and food, Maj Gen Sansern said.

Passengers said several people had died over the past few days during their journey. "About 10 people died during the journey. We threw their bodies into the water," one migrant shouted in Rohingya to a boat carrying reporters.

"There are 300 of us ... we have been at sea for two months."

A group of scarf-wearing women huddled on the deck cried as reporters approached. They said many of the passengers were young children, some of them toddlers.

The words "We are Myanmar Rohingya" were daubed in English on a black flag tethered to the boat, while a large tarpaulin had been erected to protect the stricken and weak migrants from the sun.

Observers, from the United States, and representatives from international organisations, such as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), as well as the International Organisation for Migration will be invited to the May 29 summit.

Mr Panitan said that Thailand "cannot go it alone" in setting up holding centres for Rohingya migrants as it needs to hold talks with other countries which are the origin of the migrants and the destinations for them.

Regarding measures to deal with sea migrants on boats, Mr Panitan said that in the case of large modified vessels carrying hundreds of migrants usually suspected of being operated by human trafficking gangs, the authorities will not allow them to make landfall.

This measure is in line with international practices in several countries such as Australia and European countries, Mr Panitan said.

However, in cases of small vessels carrying 10-15 migrants, officials at the scene have the discretion to decide whether to help the migrants as they see fit, Mr Panitan said.

Earlier Thursday, human rights group Fortify Rights called the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to help the Rohingya people.

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