Military defends Rohingya move

Military defends Rohingya move

Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. (AFP photo)
Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. (AFP photo)

Thai authorities have defended their decision to send Rohingya migrants back to sea, saying they simply followed long-standing standard operating procedures.

Thailand on Thursday turned away a boat carrying at least 300 Rohingya migrants found adrift in Thai waters after giving them water and food and fixing the boat's engine.

The vessel was found 17km off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea in Satun's Muang district.

Bunpot Poonpian, a spokesman of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), said on Friday army chief Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, in his capacity as deputy Isoc commander, had instructed responsible authorities to provide them with humanitarian aid.

Col Bunpot said the migrants intended to go to another country.

He explained Isoc had standard operating procedures in dealing with migrants found in or near Thai territorial waters under three scenarios.

First, Thai authorities will provide them with humanitarian aid upon finding them straying at sea. If a body is found, it will be picked up. If the migrants are wounded, they will be sent ashore to be treated.

Second, if the migrants are smuggled, they will be detained and brought to related authorities.

Third, if they are found drifting near or into Thai waters, they will be given navigational instructions for their destinations, Col Bunpot said.

He pointed out the case on Thursday belonged to the third scenario and relief supplies were given them.

The government earlier proposed to set up temporary camps to shelter Rohingya migrants in Thailand.

Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a deputy government spokesman, clarified on Friday they would not be refugee camps like the nine Thailand already has.

"They will be more like temporary restricted zones to support immigration operations and legal processing. Health care will also be provided as appropriate and these migrants will be educated about related laws," he said.

"Under Thai law, all illegal migrants must be repatriated or sent to a third country. They cannot settle here," he said.

"We've done our best based on humanitarian principles. If we are to be criticised for this, we'd like to ask our critics to ask themselves what they would do if this happened in their own countries," he said.

Thailand's move has drawn criticism from international communities, which condemn the country, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia, for not doing enough to rescue these people and putting them at risk of dying at sea.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also said on Wednesday Thailand had done the very best it could.

"If they [migrants] just pass through our waters, then it's not a problem. We'll provide them with humanitarian aid and safety as needed. But if they get ashore in Thailand, how can we take care of them? If we accept them, more will definitely come. How can we afford to take care of them all?

"Forget the option of sending them to a third country because no one accepts them. Yet everyone expects way countries like ours to take the responsibility. Is it fair?" he said.

Thailand has nine refugee camps along the Myanmar border and the prime minitser said on Thursday the total number of refugees, mainly ethnic minorities from Myanmar, has dropped to 100,000 from 500,000 through cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


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