By THE NATION ON SUNDAY
The Lawyers Council Of Thailand and other groups joined a seminar on Thursday titled “Rohingya: the uncertain fate, empty future and the Thai government’s handling of them” at the Thai Journalists Association.
Surapong Kongchantuk, vice-chair of the council’s Human Rights Subcommittee on Ethnic Minorities, the Stateless, Migrant Workers and Displaced Persons, said the government was not tackling the Rohingya immigration issue seriously, despite greater awareness and immigration strategies. Thailand saw itself as a passageway for the minority to go to Malaysia, so officials only pushed the Rohingya back (to sea) and did not proceed with any legal processing.
Middlemen were paid about Bt60,000 to get the Rohingya on a boat and when it ran out of gas in Thai waters, officials – reportedly involved in all steps – rounded them up and pushed them back without any legal processing. This occurred amid claims the country has no place to detain them.
Surapong said if the Rohingya underwent a national identification process they could get Bangladeshi or Myanmar nationality. He urged the government to give the Rohingya, who are currently refugees here, a chance to prove their nationality and apply for visas. He urged the government to deal with Rohingya set to illegally enter Thailand according to the legal process, to seriously tackle the problem.
Another subcommittee member, Nassir Artwarin, said the Rohingya were taken advantage of, especially sexually. Some 100,000 kyat (Bt3,700) could buy a girl, while Thai officials also “sucked them dry”. He urged Thailand to provide protection to the Rohingya to let the truth come out because these people were ready to testify about officials involved in human trafficking.
Department of Special Investigation (DSI) human-trafficking investigator Jatuporn Arunreukthawil said the Rohingya wanted to go to Malaysia but had to pass through Thai waters so Thai officials should provide fuel for their boats, if needed, so they could get to their destination. Because, if they were stranded in Thailand, it could cause problems with issues such as document forgery, drugs, terrorism and human-trafficking.
He cited a report from Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 that more Rohingya were sneaking in every year until 2009, when the number dropped from thousands to just 93 people, partly because middlemen in Bangladesh and Myanmar were arrested. He said the number of Rohingya being trafficked had risen again with more women and children. He said their journey should be supported, because if they were rounded up and pushed back, the middlemen would take them at the border and auction them as if they were cars.
He said the government should have a policy to ensure that arrests do not violate human rights. He called for amendment of section 55 of the Thai Immigration Act in regard to the arrest procedure so officials were not in a dilemma on whether to arrest or to help the Rohingya.
Dr Sriprapa Petcharamesree of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights agreed the law should be amended so that officials would not push the Rohingya back into danger or expose them to victimisation by human-traffickers. She thought the issue should be discussed officially by Asean.
A Rohingya representative, Abdul Kalam, urged all to view his brethren as humans and solve the problem legally. “These days, we, the Rohingya, just want a piece of paper [nationality] so we can survive … now our children were born in Thailand, we cannot leave them, so we have to live here and we want to stay legalised,” he said.