Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thai navy accused of killing Rohingyas

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 16:01 Mizzima News

Human Rights Watch has accused the Thai navy of shooting at ethnic Rohingya boatpeople, causing at least two deaths, as the refugees attempted to swim away.

Migrants thought to be from Burma's Rohingya community are pictured on January 16, 2013, at a detention center in southern Thailand after they were rounded up in raids on hidden camps in the Thai south. (Photo: AFP)

The New York-based rights watchdog said on Wednesday that, on February 22, Thai sailors near a pier in Phang Nga province fired on a group of about 20 Rohingya asylum seekers who had been in navy custody since the previous day, when their boat with about 130 on board had run out of fuel on its journey from Myanmar to Malaysia.

“The Thai government should immediately investigate the incident, and direct the navy to abide by international standards on the use of force,” the report said.

Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Rohingya fleeing Burma should be given protection, not shot at.”

He urged the Thai government to urgently investigate why “sailors opened fire at boatpeople helpless in the sea and prosecute all those found responsible.”

Human Rights Watch quoted survivors of the incident as saying that on the morning of February 20, Thai fishermen helped their drifting boat ashore on Surin Island off the coast of Phang Nga province. On that same day, at about 6:30 p.m., a Thai navy patrol boat arrived at the island and towed their boat back to the sea. The navy patrol boat and the Rohingya boat allegedly arrived near a pier in Kuraburi district of Phang Nga province at around 5 a.m. the next morning.

“According to the survivors and Thai villagers on the shore, navy personnel from the patrol boat began to divide the Rohingya into small groups in the boat and ordered them to get ready to board smaller boats. At that point, the Rohingya became uncertain whether they would be taken to immigration detention on the mainland or be pushed back to the sea. When the first group of 20 Rohingya was put on a smaller boat by the Thai navy, some panicked and jumped overboard,” Human Rights Watch said.

“Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move,” one survivor told Human Rights Watch. “But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water.”

Four Rohingya who swam to the shore were rescued by local Thai villagers, the report said, adding that Thai security forces searched the area for two days after the incident; however the villagers kept the survivors hidden.

The bodies of two Rohingya showing bullet wounds were later pulled from the sea and buried in a Muslim cemetery in Kuraburi district, the report stated. Thai fishermen told Human Rights Watch they saw more dead bodies in the water but could offer no more information. The fate of the remaining passengers on the boat remains unknown after it was towed away by the Thai navy, Human Rights Watch said.

The international rights group criticized the Thai government’s “help on” policy, which aims at intercepting Rohingya boatpeople who stray too close to the Thai coastline. “Upon intercepting a boat, officials are supposed to provide the boat with fuel, food, water, and other supplies on the condition that the boats sail onward to Malaysia or Indonesia. All passengers must remain on their own boats during the re-supply operation,” the Human Rights Watch statement said.

“Thailand should immediately grant the UN refugee agency unhindered access to screen all Rohingya arriving in Thailand to identify and assist those seeking refugee status,” said Adams.
Related articles:

  1. Discrimination against Rohingyas must be addressed, says UN
  2. Thai navy pushes 140 Rohingyas back to sea
  3. Rohingyas not ‘illegal immigrants’ in Myanmar, say Nobel laureates
  4. Thailand will shelter Rohingyas for 6 months

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