Thailand to deport Rohingya boat people, but to where?

Some 62 Rohingya migrants being detained in Thailand face deportation, but their destination remains uncertain. Burma denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group in the country and claims the migrants are Bangladeshis.


AFP - Thai prison officials released 62 Rohingya migrants being held in detention in southern Ranong province Saturday, handing them over to immigration authorities for deportation.

The adult Muslim migrants were among a group of 78 discovered off the coast of Surin island in the Andaman sea on Monday night and detained for trying to enter Thailand illegally.

"We handed over 62 people who just completed their sentences. Immigration have to wait for doctors' permission to release four more who are in hospital," having wounds tended to, Ranong's governor Wanchart Wongchaichana told AFP.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) met with 12 teenagers who form the rest of the group on Thursday but refused to comment on their condition out of "courtesy" to Thai authorities.

The Rohingya are stateless and face religious and ethnic persecution from military regime in Burma (Myanmar), forcing thousands of them to take to rickety boats each year in a bid to escape poverty and oppression, and head to Malaysia.

But the Burmese junta denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group in the mainly Buddhist country and claims the migrants are Bangladeshis.

Immigration authorities said Saturday they did not know where the group would be deported to.

"Normally under the law these people would be deported out of Thai territory after serving their sentence, but this is a special case so we have to wait for government instruction," an immigration police officer in Ranong told AFP.

On Friday, leading human rights group Amnesty International called on Myanmar to stop persecuting the Rohingya people and urged neighbouring countries to meet their humanitarian obligations.

Thailand's military has been accused of towing hundreds of Rohingya out to sea in poorly equipped boats with scant food and water, a charge it has "categorically denied."

The accusations surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some claiming to have been beaten by Thai soldiers.

Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.

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