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UN, 20 nations join Thailand to help Rohingya

Envoys hold conference to organise support; UNHCR granted permission to visit refugees

Envoys of more than 20 countries yesterday joined a teleconference that was held to address the grievances of and get help for more than 850 Rohingya people. These illegal migrants were arrested in Thailand's South earlier this month.

The conference focused on immediate assistance and the legal procedures involved.

At the teleconference were representatives of various countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, the United States, New Zealand as well as the European Union.

In a related development, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) disclosed it had already received the Thai authorities' permission to access these Rohingya refugees.

"The Thai authorities have agreed in principle to give us access," said Golam Abbas, UNHCR's Representative ad interim in Thailand. "We would like this to happen as soon as possible, so that we can jointly look at their immediate humanitarian and protection needs."

"If there are people seeking asylum among the group, they should have access to a mechanism to assess their material and protection needs. This could be through Thailand's existing Provincial Admissions Board or another agreed arrangement. We are ready to provide our support and expertise as needed," he said.

Some 115,000 Rohingya people remain internally displaced within Myanmar's Rakhine state following inter-communal violence in June and October last year. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday her government would provide humanitarian care for the refugees and instructed the Foreign Ministry to work with the UN on the issue.

The UN said it welcomed public assurances from Yingluck that the group would receive temporary assistance in Thailand in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. This principle states that under international customary law, no one should be sent back to a place where his or her life and freedom could be endangered. UNHCR has sought access to this group, and cannot confirm their number or identity without first talking to them.

Thailand's Chularatchamontri, the country's Muslim spiritual leader, visited the arrested Rohingya in Songkhla yesterday. With tears in his eyes, he urged authorities to contact a third country where the migrants could get jobs and humanitarian assistance.

"Please don't send them back to Myanmar," he said.

The Burmese Rohingya Association Thailand, at the same time, called on the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) to prevent any deportation of the Rohingya.

"We have never agreed with deportation. Sending the Rohingya back is like sending them to hell," NHRC commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara said.

He also expressed concern that the Rohingya refugees might fall victims to human traffickers.

"We will consult with relevant authorities in a bid to prevent violation of the Rohingya people's rights," Niran said.

Speaking separately, Mamadjorkhid from Myanmar said he could not feel any human dignity in his homeland.

"Soldiers always harassed us. They were always taking away whatever we had in hands or farms," the 24-old-man said. He has now settled down in Thailand's Ranong.

Nobihuzon, 40, said he felt he had no future while living in Rakhine. "Many neighbours felt the same way. So, we pooled the money to buy a fishing trawler and started our boat trip," he said.

It took him more than 20 days to reach Thailand, where he had now lived for more than 22 years.

"I can live without fear now. I have already got myself registered as an alien worker," Nobihuzon said.




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