30 Jan 2009, source from irrawaddy news,
A leading international rights group, Amnesty International, called on regional countries on Thursday to address the plight of Rohingya migrants and grant the UN immediate access to the detained boat people.
Amnesty International sent an open letter on Thursday to the governments of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma and expressed its concern on the issue of Rohingya migrants.
“We write to you to raise our serious concern about the plight of the Rohingyas,” the rights group said in the letter.
It also urged the six regional countries to grant the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) immediate access to detained Rohingya in order to determine whether they need international protection.
The group asked the Burmese military government to stop persecution of the Rohingya people who live in Arakan State in western Burma.
On Friday, a Burmese state-run newspaper, Myanmar Ahlin, carried a story that claimed the Rohingya are not among Burma’s more than 100 ethnic minority groups.
“It will be complicated if Thai authorities repatriate the 66 Rohingya migrants to Burma,” the report said, referring to an earlier group of detainees.
However, Kitty McKinsey, who is the regional spokeswoman for UNHCR in Asia, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the detained migrants were clearly Rohingya, and they departed from Burma.
The UNHCR was granted access to 12 Rohingya teenagers from a group of 78 Rohingya who were rescued by the Thai navy on Monday night. She said the teenagers are in good condition.
The health of the remaining Rohingya is unknown. The UNHCR is in discussions with the Thai government to obtain access to those in detention, she said.
Kasit Piromya, the Thai Foreign Minister, told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday that he has agreed “in principle” to grant UNHCR access to the detained Rohingya boat people after talks were held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, two leading US-based rights groups, Refugees International and Human Rights Watch, claim the Thai navy has mistreated hundreds of Rohingya boat people who left from Burma, forcing many of them back out to international water with limited food and water. The groups said as many as 300 Rohingya are missing.
Thailand has denied the charges, but in a statement released on a Web site on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “should concrete evidence be presented, the Thai Government would seriously look into such cases.”
Last week, Foreign Ministry officials met with envoys from India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma to discuss the exodus of the Rohingya from Burma.
Due to alleged discrimination against the Rohinya people, there has been a persistent exodus of Rohingya from Burma and Bangladesh since the early 1990s in an effort to reach Thailand and Malaysia.
Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues, said the number of boat people may increase this year due to the impact of the global economic downturn on one of the poorest regions of Asia.