UN refugee agency urges Thais not to eject Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar

(Photo: REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun)Rohingya Muslims attend a wrestling festival at Kyaukpannu village in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine state, June 6, 2014. Since international aid groups were forced out of the Rakhine area in February and March, members of the minority Muslim Rohingya community who relied on them say basic health care services have all but disappeared. Worst affected are those in Northern Rakhine State (NRS), home to most of Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya who are stalked by sickness and malnourishment and as yet untouched by reforms under a semi-civilian government which took power in 2011.

The United Nations has asked Thai authorities not to send away more than 200 Rohingyas it intercepted on their way to Malaysia, saying their deportation back to Myanmar might imperil their lives.

In a statement, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said it could help with the 259 people who fled Myanmar's restive Rakhine state because of persecution against Muslims.

"We're seeking details from the authorities and appealing for them not to deport the group to a place where their lives or freedom could be threatened," said Vivian Tan, UNHCR spokeswoman.

She explained that if the refugee agency proved the people indeed left Myanmar out of persecution, Thailand ought to provide "temporary stay, assistance and protection [there] until longer-term solutions are found."

On November 11, a police official in Thailand's Ranong province disclosed said that their team encountered the Rohingyas, Agence France-Presse reported.


Deputy provincial police commander Kritsak Songmulnak said investigators were determining whether the Rohingyas were victims of human trafficking.

Of the 259 Rohingyas, 13 were children, the official said.

"They said they wanted to go to Malaysia to work to earn money," he said. "We have no policy to deport them yet."

Rohingyas are a Muslim minority group not recognized as citizens in Buddhist majority Myanmar. Since 2012, tensions have risen in the country's Rakhine state where most Rohingyas live.

The Buddhist majority in Myanmar considers Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, thus denying them recognition through citizenship.

In October, Thailand arrested 53 Rohingyas in its southern region, and authorities later determined the people had been victims of human trafficking.

Rights groups have criticized Bangkok for driving away refugees and keeping them in overcrowded camps.

They estimate that some 100,000 Rohingyas have left Rakhine since 2012. More than 200 people have died in the ethnic conflict.

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