The story about the Rohingya Muslim boatmen attempting to get into Thailand (or accidentally ending up there trying to get to Malaysia) is growing. Once CNN reported the supposed “whipping” on the beach story yesterday, like sharks, the media is all over this. I used to see a couple of stories on Rohingya a few times a week, today there were over ten.
If you are reading this and thinking, well what do illegal aliens in Thailand have to do with me, think again. Whether wholly true or not this story will be used by human rights groups to demand more resettlement of Rohingya to Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
It is true that the military junta in Buddhist Burma (Myanmar) where these men originated is into ethnic and religious nationalism. They don’t want all the minorities they have. We have been resettling the Christian Burmese (mostly Karen) by the thousands and some Muslims too. Officially we are not taking the Rohingya and I guess this is because they have been linked to Islamist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. However, Rohingya are being resettled in the west, most recently the UK and Canada.
If you are new to this issue, check out the first post I wrote on Rohingya (exactly a year ago) here and also check out our whole category on the subject. There are lots of posts there about Rohingya moving into countries throughout southeast Asia.
This latest move—Rohingya boatmen going to Thailand either on purpose or by accident has now gotten the attention of the western press. Reports vary (and that is the problem!) about whether the Thai army is sending Rohingya back to sea without paddles.
At least the BBC has addressed (but poo-pooed) the issue of whether the Rohingya have come to join the Islamic insurgency in Southern Thailand, and that is more than CNN did.
They (unnamed officials) explained that Rohingyas are seen as a greater security threat than the tens of thousands of other illegal migrants, because they are Muslim, because they tend to arrive in large numbers at one time, and because they are almost (Edit: I have seen no account of any women at all) exclusively men.
Immigration officials told us there is no evidence to support the allegation made by some in the military that Rohingyas have gone to Thailand’s deep south to join the Islamic insurgency there.
The officials have told us that while most of the Rohingya want to go to Malaysia – where there is already a community 20,000 strong and the prospect of well-paid jobs – increasing numbers are staying in Thailand. The official figure last year was 4,886, and the unofficial figure may be much higher.
The case of the four drowned Rohingya.
I have three accounts of the alleged case of four drowned Rohingya just to show how the incident is reported variously by the media, and why it is hard to know what to believe.
From the Straits Times of Singapore:
Rights activists say one of the boats pushed back out to sea later capsized, killing at least four refugees and leaving another 300 missing.
From Short-News in Germany:
In one case 4 people were drowned to encourage over 400 others to board a drifting barge. Several were later rescued, but 300 are missing after trying to swim to shore. Other times the navy will confiscate engines leaving refugees to drift at sea.
From the BBC:
On 18 December one group of just over 400 was put on a navy boat, which was towing a barge behind it, says Chris Lewa from the Arakan Project.
Their hands were tied. Once out at sea they were ordered to move onto the barge at gunpoint. They refused. The Thai troops then tied the feet of four of them and threw them overboard.
Apparently the same incident! Pick the version that suits you best!