Bangkok postpones repatriation of Rohingya refugees
by Weena Kowitwanij
The 78 refugees will be treated for wounds caused by Myanmar soldiers. Prime Minister Abhisit says he is not going to change policy on repatriation. A Myanmar official denies that a Rohingya ethnic minority even exist in his country
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjachiva has postponed the repatriation of 78 Rohingya refugees picked up last Monday off the south-western coast of Thailand in the Andaman sea. He ordered forensic experts to examine their wounds, but according to preliminary results, burn marks and cuts are more than 10 days old and so could not have been caused by Thai officials.

Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, the director-general of the Institute of Forensic Science, said that the refugees confirmed that the signs of torture “were caused by Burmese soldiers.” She added that the refugees will be treated in Thailand until they recover before deportation.

In fact postponement does not mean that Bangkok is going to change its policy vis-à-vis Rohingya refugees.

For Mr Abhisit, the Rohingya are a “security problem” and that it is still “necessary to force the illegal migrants out of the country”, albeit without “mistreatment.”

In saying so the prime minister, who is also the leader of the Democrat Party, seems to be reneging on what he had said when he was leader of the opposition.

“Morality on human rights is of the utmost importance to the Thai people and inherent in its character. Defending human rights must remain a prominent feature because Thai society is sensitive to the matter,” he had said.

The government’s current policy is backed by the army, which has justified the treatment meted out to Rohingya refugees landing on the country’s coasts.

“The report that naval officers mistreated the Rohingya is not true,” said Admiral Kamthorn Phumhiran, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Navy.

“Imagine 200 Rohingya illegally entering Thailand with only 18 officers to take charge of them,” he explained. “It is necessary to have them take off their shirts to see if they have a weapon [on them] and have them lay face down. Otherwise there is no way 200 people can be controlled”.

The United Nations has intervened in the matter, urging Thailand to launch a “full inquiry” into the alleged mistreatment of refugees, voicing none the less doubts about the its “transparency” and “speed”.

The regional head of the UN's refugee agency, Raymond Hall, has in fact asked for permission to see the latest group of migrants, but so far Thai authorities have not granted it.

An unnamed Myanmar official said there was no evidence to suggest that the Rohingya were from Myanmar.

“There is no so-called Rohingya ethnic minority group in our history before or after our independence,” he said. “It is totally unacceptable to say the Rohingya are from Myanmar.”