Thailand deports 1,300 Rohingya boat people
02/13/2014 11:22 GMT
BANGKOK, February 13, 2014 (AFP) - Thailand has sent around 1,300 Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, a top official said Thursday, dismaying rights campaigners who warned the minority Muslims face persecution in the former junta-ruled country.
Thousands of Rohingya, described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted minorities, have fled sectarian violence in western Myanmar in rickety boats since 2012, mostly heading for Malaysia.
About 2,000 who arrived in Thai waters were locked up in overcrowded immigration prisons or held in shelters for women and children.
Thai authorities began deporting the Rohingya in September through a border checkpoint in the province of Ranong, national immigration chief Lieutenant General Pharnu Kerdlarpphon told AFP.
"The whole deportation process was completed in early November," he added.
It was the first official news of the deportation. It is unclear what happened to them after they left.
Rights activists criticised the move to return them to Myanmar, where they face travel restrictions, forced labour and limited access to healthcare and education.
"The deportation of Rohingya is a blatant violation of international laws that prohibit sending back refugees and asylum-seekers to a place where they can face danger and persecution," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Rights groups say the Rohingya often fall into the hands of people-traffickers, sometimes after they are deported by Thailand.
Sunai urged the Thai authorities to explain what had happened to the 1,300 Rohingya, saying the foreign ministry did not appear to have been involved in the deportation.
There was no immediate comment from the ministry.
But National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut said the majority of the Rohingya had wanted to leave Thailand.
"Most of them volunteered to go back because Thailand was not their destination anyway," he said. "We facilitated their return and I am sure that in Myanmar they have their place."
Thailand said last year it was investigating allegations that some army officials in the kingdom were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.
Rights groups have also raised concerns about alleged cases of boats being pushed back out to sea after entering Thai waters.
Hundreds are believed to have died making the perilous sea voyage from Myanmar.
Roughly 500 Rohingya are believed to remain in detention in Thailand following a raid on a suspected people-trafficking camp last month.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
More than 200 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence since June 2012 in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The United Nations has called on Myanmar to investigate reports -- denied by the authorities -- that dozens of men, women and children were killed in attacks on Rohingya last month with the alleged involvement of police.
Rakhine has been left almost completely segregated on religious and communal grounds by the unrest, with many thousands of Muslims living in squalid camps nearly two years after being displaced.
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