Bangkok (AFP) – The United Nations has urged Thai authorities against deporting more than 200 Muslim boatpeople from Myanmar being held in southern Thailand after they were intercepted en route to Malaysia, the international organisation said on November 11.
Thai police arrested 259 people on an island off the southern province of RanongSaturday, days after activists reported a surge in the number of stateless Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state.
“We’re seeking details from the authorities and appealing for them not to deport the group to a place where their lives or freedom could be threatened,” said Ms Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR in Bangkok.
She added that if the detainees were found to have fled persecution the UNHCR asked they be granted “temporary stay, assistance and protection in Thailand until longer-term solutions are found”.
Ranong deputy provincial police commander Mr. KritsakSongmulnak told AFP on November 11 that officials were determining whether the detainees had entered Myanmar illegally or were victims of trafficking.
“259 Myanmar Muslims were arrested on Saturday, of these 13 are children… They said they wanted to go to Malaysia to work to earn money,” he said.
“We have no policy to deport them yet,” added Mr Kritsak.
Last month Thai officials arrested 53 Rohingya migrants in southern Thailand for illegal immigration but after further investigation declared them to be victims of trafficking.
Rights groups say the stateless migrants often fall into the hands of people-traffickers.
They have also criticised Thailand in the past for pushing boatloads of Rohingya entering Thai waters back out to sea and holding migrants in overcrowded facilities.
Two weeks ago the Arakan Project, a Rohingya rights group, said around 900 people a day were making the perilous journey by sea to flee Myanmar.
Director Chris Lewa called the exodus “unprecedented”, saying some 100,000 people have fled by sea from western Myanmar since June 2012, when conflict between Buddhist and Muslim communities spiralled into bloodshed across Rakhine.
The violence left 200 people dead and a further 140,000 in displacement camps, mainly Rohingya.
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