The government has indicated it will not take a proactive approach to tackling the Rohingya migrant crisis, despite mounting international pressure for Thailand and its neighbours to take urgent action.
The Foreign Ministry said it was "considering" setting up temporary refugee camps, but stressed that migrants seeking shelter must comply with Thai migration laws.
It came amid reports yesterday that the navy was maintaining its policy of turning away migrant vessels in Thai waters, ignoring calls from the US to rescue the thousands of migrants packed into crowded boats in the Andaman Sea.
The navy yesterday pushed back a migrant vessel found in waters near Lipe island, which was later intercepted by Malaysian authorities. The fate of those on board was not clear as of press time, but Malaysia has adopted a hardline approach to turning away migrant vessels. Indonesia has also said it will push back boats entering its waters, while Singapore has refused to accept any of the migrants.
During a telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn late on Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Thailand to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the estimated 8,000 Rohingya migrants adrift in waters to the country's west.
But Panitan Wattanayagorn, adviser to Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, yesterday said it was up to the US to take “real action” to address the problem.
“It would be beneficial to Thailand and Asean member states if the US backs up its own words with real assistance, either financial support or technical assistance,” he said.
According to Mr Panitan, Thailand has been looking at the problem for years due to its national security implications. Thailand is willing to temporarily look after Rohingya, but this is not only Thailand’s issue and the country is just a transit point, he said.
The government welcomed Mr Kerry's compassionate words, he added.
The Malaysian government yesterday urged Myanmar to help solve the unfolding “humanitarian catastrophe”, piling more pressure on Nay Pyi Taw to address its role in the trafficking of Rohingya, many of whom are fleeing persecution in the country's Rakhine state.
But that drew a stinging rebuke from Maj Zaw Htay, director of President Thein Sein's office.
“We will not accept the allegations by some that Myanmar is the source of the problem,” Zaw Htay said. “From a humanitarian point of view, it’s sad that these people are being pushed out to sea by some countries.”
Nearly 800 migrants were brought ashore in Indonesia on Friday, but other vessels were sent back to sea despite a United Nations call to rescue thousands adrift in Southeast Asian waters with dwindling food and water.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said Gen Tanasak had explained to Mr Kerry that Thailand has consistently provided refugees and migrants travelling by sea with humanitarian assistance.
He also said Mr Kerry had confirmed that the US would send representatives to attend a regional meeting in Bangkok on May 29 to discuss the issue of Rohingya migrants.
The one-day meeting is scheduled to be attended by senior officials from 15 countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia and the United States.
Myanmar has suggested it may not attend.
Jaran Maluleem, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said yesterday that despite the problem being a pressing regional concern, countries in the region were refusing to shoulder the burden of looking after the migrants permanently.
Mr Jaran called on Asean countries to value the lives of the migrants, and share the burden of helping them.
Marine police in Satun said a boat carrying about 300 Rohingya found adrift on Thursday off Satun’s Lipe island remained stranded in Malaysian waters near Langkawi yesterday, as Malaysia and Indonesia blocked them from landing on their shores.