Thailand’s refusal to recognise Rohingya as refugees leaves them in illegal limbo

SUNDAY, MARCH 04, 2018

ROHINGYA in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia often experience their own problems, but in Thailand, members of the ethnic minority face extra difficulties because they are not recognised and categorised incorrectly.

A few thousand Rohingya entered Thailand years before the current crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. More than half of them were boat people who took the dangerous journey across the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia beginning in 2015, while the rest travelled in smaller groups overland to Thailand at about the same time.
The current exodus of 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh has not yet directly affected the Kingdom given the tight control in refugee camps in Bangladesh and the recent crackdown on human traffickers in Thailand. 
In the 2015 crisis, Southeast Asian nations blamed trafficking for bringing Rohingya onto their soil, where they were subjected to widely varying treatment. Thailand arrested, detained and deported Rohingya back to Myanmar. 

About 300 Rohingya have been in detention since then, said Siyeed Alam, chairman of the Rohingya Association in Thailand, whose organisation provides assistance to the group. 
Originally about 1,000 had been detained but many managed to break out of detention facilities and travel to Malaysia over recent years, he said.
While Thailand deems Rohingya to be illegal migrants who are seeking better lives in the Kingdom, without considering the circumstances at their point of origin, human rights expert Surapong Kongchantuk said most Rohingya were victims of trafficking and deserved better treatment by Thai authorities.
If authorities regarded them as the victims, they would have the right to work for their living, said lawyer Surapong, a minority rights advocate who has provided legal assistance to such groups for years.
Authorities have allowed millions of migrants from neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to live and work in the Kingdom, but only after national verification and registration. At present, about 3.8 migrant million workers earn a living in Thailand, with about 1.8 million working legally, but Rohingya are not eligible even if they are not in detention.
“We cannot register and our nationality cannot be verified as we are citizens of no country,” Siyeed said, adding that the idea that there were thousands of Rohingya in the Kingdom was paranoid. The extended deadline for national verification and registration is about to end in June. If Rohingya had their choice, Siyeed said, they would settle in Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia where they receive better treatment.
Unlike Thailand, Malaysia with the recognition of the United Nations offers better living and working conditions. There are about 150,000 Rohingya registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees in Malaysia currently, while about 6,000 in Indonesia also live in similar conditions.
Siyeed said he had urged Thai authorities to treat Rohingya better, but had been denied. “I don’t know how to legalise our status, but if they are left outlawed, how can authorities prevent them from doing illegal things and committing crime?” he asked.
Without legal status, Rohingya could not earn a living legally, he said. 
“Without any papers to identify ourselves, we cannot rent places to live. Life here is not easy,” he said.