01/24/2009, 00.00
INDONESIA

Indonesia denies asylum to Rohingya survivors

The odyssey of hundreds of people who fled from Myanmar and landed in Thailand, where the army loaded them onto boats without motors and towed them onto the open sea to die. 193 survivors have arrived in Indonesia, which does not want them because they do not have the status of political refugees.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Indonesia is denying exile to the 193 Rohingya migrants who landed on its shores on January 7, coming from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda today explained that they are held to be "economic migrants who do not have the right to political asylum."

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar, where they are persecuted. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 250,000 of them have fled the country since 1992. Tens of thousands of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, but there as well they are the object of frequent abuse and persecution.

These refugees are part of a group of 582 that first landed in Thailand, but there the army towed them out onto the high sea and abandoned them there, without a motor or a sail. They were found on January 7 near the coast of the province of Aceh, on an 11-meter wooden boat, without food or water. Many of them had died during the voyage, while the others were suffering from open sores and dehydration. The survivors were kept at a naval base while awaiting the decision on their request for exile.

Wirayuda says that he is in contact with their countries of origin and the international organization for migration, in order to repatriate them, and adds that "the sooner this happens, the better."

The fate of this group of Rohingya has attracted international attention, after the media accused the Thai army off loading them onto boats without motors and leaving them on the open sea to die. Some survivors who arrived at the Andaman islands in India have recounted that soldiers beat them and forcibly drove them away, and that hundreds of them died. Bangkok is denying the circumstances, but two days ago Prime Minister Abhisit Vejiajiva warned them that they will always be "driven out of the country."

Representatives from Thailand, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia have met to decide their fate, but the results are not yet known.

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