Source Phuketwan, 23 Mar
The Rohingya have been brought ashore to Phuket’s Chalong Police Station, with no clear indication whether they will be ‘helped on’ to Malaysia or trucked back towards the Burma border.
PHUKET: A boatload of Rohingya refugeees came ashore near Phuket early today after a remarkable 45-day journey via India.
The 108 boatpeople split into two groups, with about 60 swimming to shore on an island off southern Phuket, not far from the popular tourist daytrip port of Chalong.
One group of 44 men and boys accompanied the wooden open boat to a pier at Lon island, where a small Thai Muslim community lives.
Five women were among the 108, with the youngest boy aged five, one of several children under 10. The oldest passenger was a man aged 73.
It was the fourth group of Rohingya to have landed on Phuket this year as thousands flee oppression and race-hate in Burma.
A spokesman for the group said they had set off from a refugee camp in the troubled township of Sittwe, where the Burmese government tacitly encourages a policy of ethnic cleansing.
”We ended up going the wrong way and we were picked up by the Indian Navy in the Andaman and Nicobar islands,” the spokesman said. ”The Indian Navy gave us food and helped us restart our journey.”
The Thai Navy also ‘helps on’ boats of refugees apprehended off the Andaman coast of Thailand.
The Navy had not arrived to join the 44 refugees gathered at the pier off Lon island today. They showered under a hose at the pier, washed clothes and sat down to eat a simple meal of reconstituted rice.
Many of the refugees had telephone numbers with them, sometimes written on the inside of shirt collars or on small scraps of paper.
They were keen to have the chance to call relatives or friends in Malaysia to say they were safe and in Thailand for the time being.
The boat seemed relatively well-equipped compared to other boats that have been intercepted off Phuket.
It had a large supply of dried rice and a simple wood-fired cooker sat on the open deck. Most of the men and boys seemed quite healthy.
Soon after, the other 64 people from the boat were all ferried by longtails, the traditional Thai all-purpose vessel, to join the others about 9am.
At 9.20am, a Marine Police vessel arrived to tow away the Rohingya boat. It’s likely the motors – the Rohingya boat has two – will be repaired and the boat will be ”helped on” as soon as possible, despite the presence of women and children among the passengers.
The landing off Phuket comes with more violence wracking the Muslim communities of Burma and Thailand holding about 1700 Rohingya men, women and children while a decision is made about their status.
That could take another four-and-a-half months.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last week promised an investigation into a controversial incident in which Rohingya who landed north of Phuket were allegedly shot at by the Thai military.