More boat people from Burma have arrived in
Thailand with stories of abuse, this time allegedly commited by the Burmese
military. Despite a prohibition on deporting those who would face torture, Thai
authorities have indicated the group of Rohingya, a Muslim minority, will be
sent back to Burma.
Thai police say 78 boat people are in custody after
washing ashore Tuesday in southern Thailand.
Refugees say they were beaten by Burmese navy, then
The Rohingya minorities told police and Thai media they
traveled from Burma but were stopped by the Burmese navy, beaten, and then later
released. Burmese authorites have not commented.
Thai media showed images
of men with severe scars and lacerations on their backs being treated by Thai
Thai foreign ministry does not believe persecution
Despite the evidence of abuse, the Thai foreign ministry issued
a statement saying there were no "reasonable grounds" to believe the Rohingya
were fleeing Burma for fear of being persecuted - an indication that they would
be sent back to Burma.
Kitty McKinsey is Asia spokeswoman for the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
"I would just point out that,
under the convention against torture, which Thailand has signed, Thailand is
prohibited from forcibly returning anyone to a country where they would face
torture," she said.
When asked whether the boat people would likely be
tortured if returned to Burma, McKinsey said Burma's human rights record was
Thailand denies mistreating Rohingya
Earlier this month the
Thai military was accused of abusing Rohingya and towing their boats out to sea
where hundreds were left for dead. The Thai government denied the mistreatment,
but later said it would investigate.
The U.N. refugee agency had sought
access to 126 Rohingya in Thai military custody but the request was ignored. The
military then deported the Rohingya, with some reports saying they were towed
back out to sea.
McKinsey says one welcome sign is the police and courts
are handling the 78 boat people now in custody rather than the
"If Thailand truly feels that they are illegal immigrants then
they should be handled through the immigration channels and they should
certainly not be pushed back to sea by the military," she said.
Rohingya have been fleeing Burma by the hundreds for years, many of them headed
for Malaysia to find work but ending up in Thailand.
Bangkok says about
20,000 are in Thailand illegally, creating security problems and taking jobs