Paradon rules out Rohingya refugee status

The government's decision to temporarily detain Rohingya illegal migrants for six months did not mean authorities wanted to upgrade their case to refugee status, National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Lt Gen Paradon Pattanathaboot said yesterday.

Thailand will not set up permanent refugee camps, though it could still build temporary detention centres, he said.

More than 1,400 Rohingya illegal migrants have been rounded up since early January. Thailand has provided them with food and water on humanitarian grounds.

The NSC says Thailand should not accept the Rohingya as long-term refugees as this would encourage a flood of refugees. The Muslim minority has fled violent persecution in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

The council has asked the government to build detention centres for them in Songkhla and Ranong, but said no group can stay longer than six months.

After the six-month period, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should take care of the Rohingya, Lt Gen Paradon said.

Concerning reports that many Rohingya found to have illegally entered the country actually wanted to live in Malaysia, he said Thailand would let the UNHCR and other international organisations look into the matter.

The NSC has contacted Malaysian authorities.

The UNHCR had to ask Malaysia whether it wanted to accept the Rohingya migrants, he said.

Meanwhile, Songkhla authorities raided a camp in a rubber plantation in Hat Yai district yesterday where about 200 Rohingya illegal migrants were reported to be hiding, but found the camp had been abandoned shortly before they arrived.

The camp was in a rubber plantation near Ban Chalung in Hat Yai's tambon Chalung.

It is believed the Rohingya were moved out of the camp by the smugglers just a few hours before the raid.

Pol Maj Itthipol Promduang, director of the Department of Special Investigation's (DSI) operations centre for the southern border provinces, who helped lead the raid, said the camp was located on one rai of land near a canal.

The camp included four temporary shelters built with plastic sheets, and a kitchen with utensils, gas stoves and rice left in it. Two temporary toilets and five hammocks hung around the perimeter of the camp were also found.

Pol Maj Itthipol said the raid was carried out on information obtained from other Rohingya migrants who were rescued from a camp near the Thai-Malaysian border.

Later the same day, residents found eight Rohingya from the camp who had lost their way in a rubber plantation and reported them to local authorities.

The refugees looked hungry and could not communicate with the locals as they spoke the Arakanese dialect.

Police took them to a nearby mosque.

Police believed the eight Rohingya migrants might be among those who fled from the camp before the raid as the spot where they were found was only five kilometres from the camp.

Shortly after, another 29 more Rohingya migrants were found in a rubber plantation near the camp. The Rohingya were taken to Yami-ounmuttakin mosque in Ban Chalung village.

The group told officials they had lived at the camp for more than a month after smugglers had promised to take them to Malaysia.

As the camp was raided, the smuggling gang had moved some migrants from the camp, while the rest had to hide in nearby plantations.

Almost 100 Rohingya migrants are thought to be still hiding in the plantations.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul yesterday led 15 Thailand-based ambassadors and officials from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member countries to visit a temporary shelter for Rohingya children and women in Songkhla province.

"If possible, we would like to send them back to their place of origin or a third country," Mr Surapong said.

The minister said some diplomats expressed sympathy for the government and some said they would offer help when needed.

The government could also seek help from the Muslim Red Crescent Organisation.


Date: 1 February 2013

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