(Bangkok) – The Thai government should provide recently rescued Rohingya asylum seekers with assistance and immediate access to procedures to determine their refugee status, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 4, 2022, the Thai Navy found 59 Rohingya – 31 men, 23 women and 5 children – from Myanmar stranded on Koh Dong Island near Satun Province in southern Thailand. The Navy took them ashore and held them at Border Patrol Unit 436. Thai officials who interviewed them said the Rohingya had been abandoned by smugglers, who charged them about 60,000 Thai baht ($1,750) per person for a trip to Malaysia.
“The Thai government should end its policy of summarily locking up rescued Rohingya boat people and throwing away the key,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thailand should allow the UN refugee agency to screen all Rohingya arriving in Thailand in order to identify and assist those applying for refugee status.”
To protect Rohingya asylum seekers, it is crucial that the Thai government allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct refugee status determination interviews, Human Rights Watch said.
Like its predecessors, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha’s Thai government treated Rohingya arriving at the border as “illegal immigrants”, detaining them in squalid cells. According to a Western embassy in Bangkok, Thai authorities are holding more than 470 Rohingya in indefinite detention without access to refugee status determination procedures. Thai authorities have not allowed UNHCR to conduct refugee status determination for them. Thailand also discriminates against Rohingyas by refusing them to register as legally documented migrant workers, unlike other people from Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the Thai Navy has announced that it will maintain a policy of intercepting Rohingya boats that come too close to shore. After providing them with fuel, food, water and other supplies, the navy will push these boats to Malaysia or Indonesia. This amounts to a continuation of Thailand’s murderous push-back policy, which has resulted in Rohingya boats disappearing on the high seas and people dying, Human Rights Watch said.
The Thai Navy further stated that any boat that somehow lands on Thai shores will be seized and immigration officials will arrest the men, women and children on board for illegal entry and would hold them.
Thai authorities have for years said they would not accept Rohingya as refugees. However, under international law, Thailand cannot summarily reject asylum seekers fleeing persecution at the border. Thailand is required not to return them until it has provided a full and fair assessment of their international protection claims, Human Rights Watch said.
Myanmar’s government and military have long persecuted the Rohingya, members of a Muslim ethnic minority group who have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for generations, pushing them to flee repression and extreme poverty. The situation has worsened significantly since August 2017, when Myanmar’s military committed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.
Given the lack of security and the overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous camp conditions where many Rohingya are forced to live in Bangladesh, many have risked harsh weather conditions on the Andaman Sea to embark on dangerous journeys to Thailand. , Malaysia and Indonesia, often falling prey to gangs of human traffickers.
“The Thai government should help the oppressed Rohingya, not add to their suffering,” Pearson said. “The Thai government should immediately allow them access to desperately needed protection.”