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'Rohingya are illegals, but will be treated humanely'

The Rohingya who recently arrived from Myanmar were smuggled into the country, so they must be prosecuted under Thai law for illegal entry, Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said yesterday. He added, however, that legal procedures could be flexibly applied, especially in regard to women and children.

Speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on her weekly TV show yesterday, Surapong, who is foreign minister, said the detention of Rohingya in Songkhla last week was a matter for the National Security Council (NSC). The migrants had entered Thailand illegally and would be dealt with according to Thai law.

As a short-term solution, agencies had provided temporary shelter and care for the Rohingya. In the long term, Thailand would consult with international organisations including the International Organisation for Migration, the International Com-mittee of the Red Cross, the UNHCR and Unicef on what could be done. He said Yingluck had urged officials to take care of the Rohingya according to humanitarian principles as they had suffered a great deal, hence there would be no immediate repatriation.

Surapong said the permanent secretary for foreign affairs and the NSC chief would discuss ways of working with international agencies on providing shelter for the Rohingya, while Thailand would monitor and seek to eradicate human-trafficking crimes involving the group. Surapong also thanked the Muslim community in Songkhla, where over 800 Rohingya were detained last week, for their donations and other offers of assistance.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalya-sut urged the government to talk to Myanmar and Bangladesh and encourage them to accept the Rohingya in their countries as citizens. Among the Rohingya who had been detained for illegal entry, those looking for work in Thailand as unskilled labourers should be separated out and held in a designated zone, while officials intensified efforts to prevent the Rohingya from enter the Kingdom illegally, the spokesman said. Lastly, the government should contact international agencies to find a third country to take the Rohingya, he said, warning that Thailand should proceed speedily but carefully, otherwise many more Rohingya will try to come before third countries can be found to take them.

In Hat Yai, officials and volunteers searched for at least eight Rohingya thought to be in the Kaew Mountain Range, after authorities urged locals not to harm them following reports a Rohingya man was shot dead last month after being mistaken for a thief.

Ranong Islamic Committee president Surachet Prasongpol yesterday gave food and donated items to 22 Rohingya men who were detained along with 64 others on January 17 off Phang Nga's Takua Pa and have since been moved to an immigration centre in Ranong. Members of the Ranong fishing community, however, voiced fear desperate Rohingya would attack locals to obtain food and supplies, and had set up volunteer security teams to patrol on land and at sea.

Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 officer Maj-General Manas Khongpaen said 2,817 Rohingya migrants were detained for illegal entry from October to December last year and warned that more would come this year, as violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state continued. He said Thailand would stop Rohingya from entering Thailand illegally using Standard Operating Procedures and according to humanitarian principles.

NSC secretary-general Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanathabutr said the government affirmed a status of the Rohingya captured in Songkhla as illegal entries, not refugees, hence the Kingdom could not set up a camp for them.

"Even if the country of origin had fighting or human rights violation, the Rohingyas' home province doesn't border with Thailand so support for the Rohingya here doesn't mean war refugee status."

He also commented that a gang's detention of the Rohingya pending transport to Malaysia may not be human trafficking, but illegal detention and harboring of aliens.

He said the Rohingya were economic workers kept in Thailand pending transport to the destination country.

"We've to be careful about this issue because giving too much aid might be a signal for the remaining Rohingya to travel to Thailand, leading to endless problems," he said.


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