Thai prime minister acknowledges Myanmar migrants were sent back to sea
Bangkok: Thailand’s prime minister acknowledged Friday that authorities towed migrants from Myanmar back out to sea, but insisted that their human rights were not violated.
Many Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in their native land, have tried to land in Thailand after treacherous sea journeys in recent months, only to be turned away.
Rescued migrants have charged that they were towed out to the high seas in boats with no engines by the Thai navy. Officials in the Indian navy, who rescued some in the Andaman Sea, believed on the basis of survivors’ accounts that hundreds may have perished.
There also were allegations that Thai authorities had beaten some Rohingya who made it ashore before they were sent on their way and ended up in Indonesia. The plight of the Rohingya boat people has recently gained the world’s attention, and actress Angelina Jolie, touring a refugee camp in northern Thailand last week, added her voice to the call for Thailand to respect their human rights.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Friday boats carrying Muslim Rohingya migrants “were towed out so they can land at a different destination.” Abhisit had previously said he could not confirm any accounts of the migrants being sent away. Other Thai officials had said their policy is to detain and repatriate migrants.
On Friday he remained unclear about whether the boats that were pushed out had engines and said he did not know exactly who had towed the boats to sea, but did not deny that sending them away was government policy, saying, “It happens in many countries.” “From the information I have, there was no intention to cause loss of lives,” he said, adding that accounts of abuses came solely from migrants and had not been independently confirmed. “The nature of these push-outs means they were given water and food, and it was calculated when and where they will wash up on (other) shores,” he told reporters.
Speaking separately, the army officer directly in charge of handling the Rohingya migrants acknowledged freely that the migrants had been pushed out and insisted it was Thailand’s legal right to do so. Col. Manat Kongpan insisted that the migrants were not cast adrift.
Speaking at a seminar in Bangkok on the Rohingya issue, he said that if “they come without engines or their boats don’t look like they will make it to the open waters again, we help them fix it and we give them a little food and supplies so they can go on.”
He also denied physically mistreating the migrants.
At the same seminar, Raymond Hall, regional representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Thailand has been asked to open a temporary shelter for Rohingya migrants — a solution informally opposed by Thai officials — but that the long-term solution was to improve living conditions for them in their area of western Myanmar