Nearly 350 illegal Rohingya migrants were found crammed inside two vessels entering Thai waters in southern Ranong and Phuket provinces on Tuesday.
|A group of Rohingya women and children at Khao Lak shelter in southern Thailand (Photo: Steve Sandford/IRIN)|
In Ranong, a boat carrying about 140 Rohingya migrants was spotted floating about 5.5 kilometres off Phayam island in Muang district about 8.30am by a naval patrol boat.
Naval officers provided the illegal migrants with food and water, a source said. Humanitarian assistance was also provided to help them on the way to their destination.
The Rohingya had to be sent back out to sea as authorities were already struggling with an influx of illegal Muslim Rohingya migrants, the source said.
Several boats carrying Rohingya have illegally entered Thailand via this southern province on a daily basis. In some cases, the Rohingya sunk their own boats to prevent authorities from sending them back out to sea, the source said.
In Phuket, about 200 illegal Rohingya migrants were found crammed inside a vessel searched by marine police and naval officers off Racha Noi island in Muang district Tuesday.
The boat was initially spotted floating between Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands by fishermen on Monday. They provided the migrants with food and water and told the authorities.
They suggested the boat people land on Racha Noi, Phuket's southernmost island, because it was uninhabited. Some of the migrants camped on the island overnight, but most remained on the boat.
A combined marine police and navy team descended on the boat late Tuesday. It was not known where they were planning to take the refugees.
The 200 Rohingya are the latest to reach southern Thailand, following a series of arrests in Songkhla and at sea in Phangnga province this month.
This lifts the total number of illegal Rohingya migrants now in custody to about 1,700.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul will lead a delegation of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members to meet Islamic leaders and security agencies in the three southernmost border provinces tomorrow. He said the delegation would get first-hand information about the southern violence.
He will also use this opportunity to seek a solution to the Rohingya migrant problem from the OIC and ask the delegation which countries wanted to take in the migrants who had fled from Myanmar's Rakhine state to Thailand.
As those migrants had entered Thailand, the kingdom had to provide them with temporary assistance on a humanitarian basis, he said. Authorities had to work with several international agencies such as Unicef and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find a solution.
This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on January 30, 2013.