Thailand charges crew of stranded Rohingya boat

Bangkok, June 14 (IANS) Five Myanmar boat crew-members and the Thai captain of the vessel found stranded on a southern Thai island with 65 Rohingya Muslims have been charged with people smuggling, the police said on Friday.
“For now, the Thai captain and the other five Burmese have been charged with illegally smuggling in the immigrants,” Police Major General Supawat Thapkliew, the head of police in southern Satun province, told Efe news.
The group was found on Koh Rawi in Tarutao National Park, Satun, on Tuesday. Of the 65 Rohingyas found with the six crew members, 31 were women and five were children.
Thai captain Sangkhom Paphan “confessed partly”, Supawat said.
“He admitted what he could, but we still need to investigate more to see who is actually behind this,” Supawat added, but didn’t disclose how much Sangkhom was paid or by whom.
Supawat said the boat came from Ranong province – further north along the Myanmar border – and was “heading to another country, but we still cannot say to where exactly”.
The Rohingyas were being provided food and shelter.
“We try to look after them the best we can because they are not wrongdoers,” Supawat said, adding that they will be put into the care of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security when the police process is complete.
On Wednesday, the NGO Fortify Rights called on the Thai authorities to protect the new arrivals.
It is not known if the group came from Myanmar or Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingyas live in the largest refugee camp in the world after a Myanmar Army crackdown in August 2017 sent more than 725,000 fleeing from Rakhine state.
There have been many reports of Rohingyas attempting to leave Bangladesh by boat in recent months, presumably in order to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group and refers to them instead as “Bengalis” who immigrated from Bangladesh.
In 2015, boats loaded with thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis bound for Malaysia and Thailand were refused landing by authorities and left to drift in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
Later, Malaysia and Indonesia offered shelter to 7,000 of the refugees and migrants.
–IANS
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