By THE NATION
The Thai authorities yesterday sent 70 alleged illegal immigrants to detention at the Satun Immigration Police Office and two local police stations.
The confinement is related to a probe launched on Tuesday into alleged human trafficking.
National police inspector-general Pol General Suchat Theerasawat was to join the case meeting yesterday afternoon, a police source said.
At the Chalung Police Station where he was detained along with some 20 Rohingya, the 49-year-old boat captain, Thai national Sangkhom Paphan from Ranong province, allegedly admitted that he was hired for Bt100,000 by a Myanmar investor to collect the immigrants from Bangladesh and transport them to Malaysia. Authorities have laid initial charges against him for bringing illegal immigrants into the country.
The captain and 70 passengers were rounded up by Third Naval Region officers on Tuesday after their vessel, which ran out of fuel three days earlier, was swept ashore at Koh Rawi in Tambon Koh Sarai of Satun’s Muang district. They were brought to the mainland in Langu district at 10pm on Tuesday.
As the fuel ran out, Sangkhom said he anchored the boat in mid-seas for three days to await a refill delivery, as the investor had promised, but it failed to arrive before strong waves swept the boat to the shore – information which matched the immigrants’ initial testimony.
The passengers received health screening and primary treatment as per the humanitarian principle, and were questioned about whether they were lured by a human trafficking gang.
Meanwhile, Satun Islamic Committee president Arun Maji said he had instructed his deputy to co-ordinate donations for food aid and needed items for the 65 Muslim Rohingya. The Rohingya was sent to stay at a shelter in Songkhla’s Rattaphum district, he said.
The Rohingya community in Thailand would look out for the boat passengers, said the chairman of the Rohingya Association in Thailand, Siyeed Alam. “But we have to wait for the Thai authorities to allow us access to them,” he said, noting that he was worried that the authorities might detain them for a long time and then send them to Myanmar.
Speaking from Nya Pyi Taw yesterday, Police Brigadier General Myint Htoo of Myanmar’s anti-human trafficking police told The Nation that Myanmar authorities have yet to be made aware of the fresh group of migrants landing in Thailand.
“So far, the Thai police forces have not informed us of the arrest, so we believe they will be able to address the issue in a short period of time. Myanmar will be happy to cooperate with the Thai police and relevant authorities if there is any room for that matter. We are always willing to join hands with our neighbouring countries regarding trans-boundary issues.
“We are happy to provide any necessary support they need, if we are informed of that through an official channel,” he said.
More than 900,000 stateless Rohingya refugees live in crowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It is estimated that 741,000 of them have fled from Myanmar since the most recent round of violence targeting them began in August 2017, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The repatriation plan reached by Nay Pyi Taw and Dhaka to return the first batch of 2,000 returnees hit a stalemate last November, due to the refugees’ fears for their safety upon their return.
An observer said the fear of repatriation might motivate Rohingya to take the dangerous journey across the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia, where Malaysia is the prime destination with Thailand a transit point.