Raid finds Rohingya camp empty in south Thailand

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Sleeping mats and abandoned belongings were all Hat Yai police found when they raided a camp yesterday that was suspected of illegally harbouring 200 Rohingya migrants.

Nearby residents later found 29 Rohingya wandering lost in the woods and alerted the authorities. Police believe they were among the 200 migrants from the empty camp and had escaped from their middlemen handlers during the camp's hurried evacuation. The Rohingya told rescuers about 100 other Rohingya had escaped.

It was the fourth Rohingya camp raid this month in Songkhla. The migrants had reportedly been staying at the camp in Tambon Chalung for almost a month awaiting departure to Malaysia.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul yesterday led envoys from 17 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries to visit 105 Rohingya women and children at a shelter in Songkhla's Muang district. He said the diplomats were satisfied with Thailand's handling of the Rohingya and some envoys promised to give their cooperation.

Songkhla Governor Kritsada Boonrach told the envoys that the Rohingya people's health had improved thanks to care from related agencies. The envoys said they would determine whether the migrants should be sent back to their country of origin or onward to a third country. The envoys also visited a Rohingya shelter in Pattani.

National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Lt-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr yesterday insisted that Thailand would not set up a refugee camp for the Rohingyas, who are fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state. Around 1,400 Rohingyas are being detained in various locations around the South for illegally entering Thailand.

According to Thai immigration rules, the illegal migrants can't be detained for longer than six months. They will be assisted in humanitarian terms and allowed to remain temporarily, Paradorn said.

"We will neither upgrade the problem to the international level nor open refugee camps to accommodate them," Paradorn said. "As for the Rohingyas found aboard boats in the sea, we will provide them with water and food but we will not allow them to enter Thai territory. The Thai authorities have already talked to and asked for cooperation from Malaysia. We would like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to help us talk to Malaysia."

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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