01/28/2009, 00.00
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Bangkok denies refugee status to Rohingya

According to the Thai government, they are "illegal immigrants" who have no right to political asylum, and it is ordering that they be repatriated. Over the past two months, more than 550 refugees are believed to have drowned after being abandoned in international waters. On January 24, Indonesia refused entry visas for 193 refugees.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The ethnic Rohingya refugees picked up in the territorial waters of Thailand are "illegal immigrants," not "refugees," and they will not be granted visas to enter the country. The Thai government today clarified the situation of the Burmese Rohingya refugees, fleeing the country because they have been persecuted by the dictatorship and refused asylum by Thailand and Indonesia.

"There is no reasonable ground to believe that these migrants fled from their country of origin for well-founded fear of being persecuted," Bangkok stressed in a statement defending the government's policy toward these refugees. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh; most of them live in the state of Rakhine - formerly called Arakan - in western Burma, and they are victims of persecution and abuse perpetrated by the Burmese military dictatorship.

It is estimated that over the past two months, more than 550 of the 1,000 refugees have drowned after being abandoned by the Thai army in international waters, on board improvised canoes without motors or sails. The military and the government insist on the official version, according to which the men "were provided with necessary food, water and medicines," and reject the accusation of mistreatment.

Today, the Thai court charged 62 refugees with "irregular immigration," increasing the fears that they will be sent back to Myanmar. If they are sent back to their country of origin, they will again suffer persecution, torture, and killing. The Ranong court also charged them with an administrative fine of 1,000 bath, equal to 30 U.S. dollars, a sum that none of them can pay. For this reason, the judge commuted their sentence to five days in jail. The men arrested are part of a group of 78 refugees picked up on January 26 in the Andaman sea, off the southwestern coast of Thailand, many of whom had burns and injuries that they attribute to torture by Burmese soldiers.

Last January 24, Indonesia also denied asylum to 193 Rohingya migrants who landed on its coast on January 27, coming from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda explained the decision by saying that they were "economic migrants with no right to political asylum."

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