Thailand is facing criticism from human right’s groups for apparently forcing 1,000 captured refugees from Myanmar onto drift-boats and sending them out to sea to die.
Amidst the chaos in what is now Myanmar, rocked by both a recent cyclone and an oppressive government, refugees are fleeing the country. One particularly desperate group of people are the Rohingyas. A Muslim minority in Myanmar, they are denied full citizenship, and some 200,000 or so people are forced to live in squalid border camps. As a result, several thousand refugee’s sacrifice their life savings and everything they own to be smuggled into Thailand and from there into Malaysia or Indonesia, where they hope to find either work or asylum.
Unfortunately, the government of Thailand is particularly suspicious of Rohingyas refugees, as some officials claim they are joining the Muslim-led separatist insurgency that has troubled the region for over 5 years now. Some government officials have made unsubstantiated claims of such, yet there’s scant evidence to suspect anything but a few isolated individuals may be joining the cause.
Earlier this year, when one group of refugees reached the shore, Thailand’s soldiers captured them. After being held for days on a remote island off of Runong, two groups totaling nearly 1,000 refugees were forced at gunpoint into several boats, all lacking engines and with no food or water on board. They were set out to sea in the Indian Ocean. Some drifted west to India’s Andaman Islands. Others to Indonesia’s Aceh province. One group of refugee’s was loaded onto a barge, given two sacks of rice and two gallons of water for the 400 people on board, and then towed out to sea before being set adrift.
All told, of the thousand or so refugee’s involved, more than
500 are either dead or missing (and presumed dead) according to accounts told by the survivors. On January 7th the Indonesian navy was able to rescue a group of 192 people, but the rest are feared lost at sea. Many died trying to swim back to the shores after being set loose.
Taking such a trek is always a gamble, and many refugees arrive only to be sold off as slaves. Yet this degree of blatant disregard for entire families is an astonishingly callous response by Thailand officials.