PHUKET: The whereabouts of a large group of Rohingya boatpeople who landed in Thailand on Christmas Day are no longer known and authorities are reluctant to disclose their location.
Phuketwan reporters interviewed some of the 139 men, women and children at a community centre north of Phuket, where local villagers fed them after their 22-day trip at sea south from Burma (Myanmar.)
The menfolk told of a harrowing trip in which 12 passengers were killed by Thai-Burmese smugglers after being handed to them by the Burmese navy.
Other men showed head and back wounds they said were inflicted in beatings, for no apparent reason, by the smugglers.
Efforts by Phuketwan reporters over the past two days have failed to trace the recently arrived Rohingya, of whom most are children, teenagers or young adults,
A contact at the Immigration centre in the province of Phang Nga, north of Phuket, said yesterday: ”We can’t tell you where we have sent them. This is our policy from the boss in Bangkok.
”When they arrived, we had them checked by Public Health and interviewed by human security for Phang Nga province. They were profiled one by one. We were especially concerned to check for malaria.”
The contact said there had been two escapes from Phang Nga Immigration by Rohingya this year, so the centre was not the ideal place to keep them.
”So we moved them . . . but I cannot tell you where,” the contact said.
Local villagers in Phang Nga generously fed the Rohingya on December 26 in a hall where a large portrait of His Majesty The King of Thailand gazed down upon the scene.
Some of the Rohingya, who said they had little to eat on their journey, became emotional when they talked to friends on a mobile telephone provided by one Phuketwan reporter.
During an impromptu prayer session, many of the men and women burst into tears. It was difficult even for experienced reporters to not be moved by their plight.
Investigations by Phuketwan and Reuters journalists recently revealed the existence of several large, secret camps in southern Thailand, where it’s believed thousands of Rohingya boatpeople are being held captive by human traffickers.
The traffickers extort money from family and friends of the Rohingya by beating them as they make telephone calls, pleading for help. Deaths and rapes occur in the camps, according to people who have escaped.
Most of the 2200 Rohingya boatpeople who were apprehended in Thailand between January and March this year and held in expectation of a decision being made about their status and security are no longer to be found in Thailand.
In October, Phuketwan reporters watched as a group of Rohingya was delivered by bus to Ranong Immigration, on the border with Burma. The following day, the Rohingya were taken to a nearby pier.
According to reliable informants, the Rohingya soon find themselves in the hands of smugglers who sail them south to the Thai-Malaysia border then transfer them to the traffickers’ camps.
One busload of 60 Rohingya from Sadao Immigration arrived by bus at Ranong Immigration yesterday, Phuketwan has learned. They are likely to be at sea in the hands of people smugglers within 48 hours.
A record number of 9000 boatpeople is reported to have sailed from northern Burma in November. Thousands more are likely to flee the ethnic cleansing being carried out in Burma with the tacit approval of the Burmese government.