March 24, 2014 00:00 By Pakorn Puengnetr The Nation
Thailand will monitor the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) role in Islamic-related issues in the Kingdom - including the deep South unrest, the Rohingya migrants issue and the possible Uighur-refugees issue - after the body appointed a new lead
The OIC early this year welcomed its 10th leader and its first Saudi leader, 68-year-old Iyad Ameen Madani, who was preceded by Prof Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu from Turkey.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in production administration from the United States’ Arizona State University, Madani returned to Saudi Arabia and started his career as an executive in Saudi Airlines’ administrative office before becoming editor-in-chief of Saudi Gazette.
He was made a member of the Shoura Council and served in the top post at various ministries including the Ministry of Culture and Information, while also serving in key positions in various academic and charity organisations.
The OIC, the world’s second largest international organisation after the United Nations, was established in 1971 and currently has 57 member states and five observer countries including Thailand.
With the secretariat located in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah City, the OIC leader was elected from among member states to serve a five-year term.
As the OIC has been dealing with issues relating to Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries including Thailand, Madani seemed to focus his attention on the issue of the Royingha group in Myanmar, ethnic Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang region and Thailand’s deep South unrest.
A source at a national security agency said the OIC had communicated through various channels with the caretaker government its concern over the plight of some 1,000 Rohingya people found in Songkhla’s Sadao district early last year and detained in Thailand since then.
But the source said the body did not get an answer from related agencies due to the internal political conflict.
As a result, some national security agencies expect the new OIC head to apply more pressure on Thailand, especially on the issue of the Rohingya migrants and the issue of the some 200 Muslim refugees recently found in Songkhla who said they were Turkish but are believed to be Uighurs. It was possible the OIC will push for the establishment of a refugee shelter to take care of these people, although Thailand has clearly showed no intention to build the facility, the source said.
The year-long problem
The men among the some 1,000 Rohingya people suspected to be human trafficking victims are being detained due to their status as illegal immigrants while the women and children have been sent to state-run homes in various provinces.
Throughout the past 12 months, there were several news reports of Rohingya people breaking out of detention, reportedly due to living in over-crowded conditions for prolonged periods.
The issue cannot be solved by repatriating them back to Myanmar, because Myanmar doesn’t recognise them as citizens, while the idea of sending them off in boats was criticised by human-rights organisations and Western countries.
Despite a March 5 meeting in which caretaker Social Development and Human Security Minister Pavena Hongsakul met with related agencies in Pattani about human trafficking suppression, as Thailand is reportedly used as a route to Malaysia, not much progress has been made.
Alleged ethnic Uighurs, a new problem
Songkhla Immigration Police Command 6 discovered some 200 refugees described as being of Turkish appearance in a secret camp in Rattaphum district and detained them for illegal entry.
The refugees did not have ID, but Human Rights Watch claimed they were ethnic Uighurs who had fled from China’s Xinjiang region. Thai authorities believed they were victims of human traffickers who smuggled them to other countries, especially Malaysia, in the same fashion as the Rohingya.
On March 20, Songkhla officials rounded up another 77 Muslim immigrants, including 32 children, who were left roaming a street in the Padang Besar border town in Sadao district.
Although the possible ethnic Uighurs issue might seem less serious than the Rohingya issue or the deep South unrest, caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra explained via her Facebook page details of the aid that had been provided to the group – which suggests that Thailand is under pressure due to this problem.