Help needed to deal with influx of refugees
Thailand needs assistance from neighbouring governments and international organisations to help resolve the Rohingya issue
The call from Chularatchamontri, Thailand's Muslim spiritual leader, for the international community to help around 850 Rohingya refugees should be responded to with concrete action. While the international community and non-governmental organisations are calling for Thailand not to deport these people back to Myanmar, for safety reasons, they must also help Thailand resettle these illegal migrants. Thailand has provided basic humanitarian care for these people, who were smuggled into Thailand earlier this month.
Earlier this week, representatives of more than 20 countries attended a teleconference to hear the grievances of these people. Delegates from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, the United States and New Zealand, as well as the European Union, expressed sympathy for the Rohingya plight. But sympathy alone is not enough. All parties concerned have to help the Rohingya find a solution to their plight.
At least 843 Rohingya have been arrested in police sweeps of remote areas and rubber plantations near the border with Malaysia, leading the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to try to confirm whether any of them plan to seek asylum. An additional 60 Rohingya were found a couple of days ago, making the total of new arrivals 917.
The Thai government has provided temporary care while they wait to hear whether they will be deported back to Myanmar or sent to a third country. Thailand has given the go-ahead to the UNHCR to help these people, but there are important issues that need to be addressed. First, who is smuggling these people into Thailand? They must be found and prosecuted. Second, Thailand and other countries cannot ignore the plight of these illegal migrants by shipping them on to other places as quickly as possible.
This group of illegal migrants is not the first to arrive here and they are unlikely to be the last. When inter-communal violence broke out in Myanmar's Rakhine State in October and December, 2,817 Rohingya refugees entered the country and were detained. This is not to mention previous waves of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Thailand over the past few years.
The Thai government has given access to the UNHCR to visit the recently detained group to identify them and find out whether any were illegally trafficked. The UNHCR and other responsible agencies must carry out their task promptly and proceed to the next step urgently, instead of leaving these people waiting desperately. Thailand cannot deal with an influx of Rohingya without the sincere cooperation of the international community to help solve the problem. A lack of action would simply encourage more Rohingya migrants into the country.
The root cause of the problem must be addressed, and that is the ethnic conflict between the predominantly Buddhist people of Myanmar and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority.
The international community has so far inadequately pressured the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to address the issue.
The Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand has called on the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to prevent any deportation. They are now calling for Muslim nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia to take in these migrants. Apparently these 800 people wanted to migrate to Malaysia before they were detained in Thailand.
Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council, has said Thai authorities will have to deal carefully with the migrants. If they are left to suffer in poor conditions, he warned, they could be lured into joining campaigns against the authorities.
Thailand has provided shelter for displaced people since the 1970s, during the Vietnam War and subsequent conflicts in Cambodia and Laos. And the record shows that limited resources for displaced people can result in poor conditions and ill will towards the Thai authorities.
The Thai government has decided not to open an encampment for the Rohingya. Some of them will find temporary shelter at mosques until the international community and UNHCR can find a solution to their situation.The efficiency and sincerity of the UNHCR and international community in handling this issue will be shown by their actions.