It has been fascinating over recent weeks to watch a story grow into an international crisis. That is what has happened with the Rohingya boat men story. For new readers, reports surfaced at the end of December that hundreds of Rohingya Muslim men were being detained by the Thai military as they arrived on beaches in Thailand seeking by some accounts a better life, and by other accounts have a darker mission—joining the Muslim insurgency in the South of Thailand.
The explosion in the story came as a result of the apparently now true allegation that the Thai military is hauling them back to the sea in boats without paddles resulting in hundreds perishing at sea.
To get you up to speed, check out this Christian Science Monitor article a couple of days ago (thanks to all who sent it). A little background from the CSM:
Thailand has long been a magnet for millions of economic migrants as well as refugees escaping persecution in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Human traffickers often play a role in transporting both groups, exposing those on the run to egregious abuses. Thailand has a mixed record on hosting refugees.
Most Rohingya, who are denied legal rights in Burma, begin their journey in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 live in unofficial camps. A further 28,000 are registered with the UNHCR. From there, men pay smugglers for passage across the Indian Ocean to Thailand, usually as a transit stop to reach Malaysia, a Muslim country with a sizable Rohingya population. Some Bangladeshis also travel there.
Now, CNN has sent a team of reporters to the region, so get ready for stories far and wide. CNN has obtained photos of the ‘dump-at-sea’ that they must have received from someone inside the Thai military. I’m not defending the Thai military when I say this, but if the photos are legit, it was really stupid of them to photograph the hauling out to sea event.
This (below) is from CNN and it has a bit of new information for those of us following the story on a regular basis. CNN says the Thai military is protecting the local Thai villagers (you know, kind of like what our military should be doing on the Mexican border).
The Rohingya, a persecuted minority in Myanmar, have been fleeing their country in rickety boats for years, in search of a better life.
In Thailand, many instead have found deprivation and the possibility of desertion far off shore, according to the CNN investigation.
The source who provided CNN with photos of refugees in a boat being towed out to sea stressed that the Thai army had given the refugees food and water, but he also confirmed that the boats had been pulled for more than two days into international waters before they were set adrift.
His account directly contradicts briefings by senior Thai army sources who denied any such operation was undertaken.
A source in the Thai military, after extensive questioning, did confirm to CNN that the Thai army was operating a dump-at-sea policy. But the source defended it, insisting that each boatload of refugees was always given sufficient supplies of food and water.
That source claimed local villagers had become afraid of the hundreds of Rohingya arriving each month, and that they were accusing the refugees of stealing their property and threatening them.
Beware, as the world economy continues to tank, there will be more of this—economic migrants flowing across borders—and more demand that the US and western countries take them in.
That is what this media drumbeat is working up to.
For more on the Rohingya, see our extensive archive here.