THE GOVERNMENT yesterday confirmed its readiness to work with the international community in solving the problem of boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
However, deputy government spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd rejected a proposal for Thailand to set up shelters for such illegal migrants. He cited security concerns and possible violations of the law.
Earlier, the United States urged Thailand to consider sheltering stateless Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar and are adrift in boats in the Indian Ocean. The US also asked countries in the region not to send these people back to sea.
US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the plight of the refugees by phone with Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn late on Thursday, Reuters reported.
"The secretary called his Thai counterpart to discuss the situation of migrants in the Andaman Sea and to discuss the possibility of Thailand providing temporary shelter," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.
The Thai government will host an international conference on unusual migration in the Indian Ocean on May 29 in Bangkok, Sansern said yesterday.
He said senior officials from 15 countries affected by the problem of unusual migration would be invited to take part in the conference. These include Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
The US and international organisations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) would also be invited as observers at the meeting, the spokesman said.
Sansern said that Thailand has helped the migrants on humanitarian grounds while having to deal with related security issues.
He said all the problems should be tackled at their root cause, to prevent people taking such journeys on boats in the Andaman.
"Thailand has a clear standpoint of coordinating with the international community in attempting to solve this problem," he said.
"We have always helped illegal migrants on humanitarian grounds. But the government also needs to protect our people. We have no policy of allowing migrants to settle in Thailand."
He said setting up shelters and finding work for illegal migrants was not the right solution to the problem. "That way, the problem is not solved at its root cause. A sensible solution is for responsible international organisations to take care of those people at countries of origin, in order to prevent them from moving to other countries," he said.
In Phang-nga province, UNHCR officials yesterday went to provide initial relief to 106 Rohingya people, abandoned earlier on islands in Kura Buri district, and get information about them in a bid to try to help them be resettled in a third country.
The 106 Rohingya people were rounded up on Thursday by the Royal Thai Navy and forwarded to the Phang Nga Immigration Office. A total of 25 children and women were sent to the Phang Nga Children and Family Home.
UNHCR looks at resettling Rohingya
UNHCR official Serg Burtomio said the agency had worked with the Thai government in helping the Rohingya for two years and so far the trafficked migrants could be divided into Bangladeshi and Rohingya, so the aid differed.
While Bangladeshis could be sent back to their country, the Rohingya were in a tricky position and in need of temporary protection. Hence, the agency and the Thai government had helped send 65 of them, so far, to a third country and was considering doing the same for many more.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar via Bangladesh are stranded on boats as regional governments block them from landing.
The State Department's Rathke said nearly 3,000 migrants had landed in Indonesia and Malaysia this week and were receiving help. He said US ambassadors were "intensely engaged" with governments about mounting a rapid humanitarian response.
"We urge the governments of the region to work together quickly, first and foremost, to save the lives of migrants now at sea who are in need of an immediate rescue effort," Rathke said. "We urge governments in the region to refrain from pushbacks of new boat arrivals."
Many of the boat people are Rohingya, a minority in Myanmar's Rakhine state, that the United Nations has described as one of the most persecuted groups in the world.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Washington continued to raise its concerns with Myanmar over migrants that are fleeing "because of dire humanitarian and economic situations they face at home out of fear of ethnic and religious violence".
Malaysian vessels yesterday intercepted a boat crammed with migrants after the Thai navy towed it away from Thailand - the latest of a number of vessels pushed back to sea by governments ignoring the UN's call for an immediate rescue.
Thousands of people are adrift in the Andaman Sea after smugglers abandoned their vessels following the Thai crackdown on human trafficking. Many of the migrants are thirsty and sick.
Migrants aboard the vessel were visibly distressed on the packed deck under a blazing sun, a Reuters witness said. Women were crying and some waved their arms and shouted.
The boat had been towed back to sea by the Thai navy twice after drifting for days. On both occasions, the navy fixed its engine and supplied it with food, water and fuel before towing it out of Thai waters.
The migrants told the Thai navy yesterday they wanted to go to Malaysia, the officer on a patrol boat told Reuters. "We fixed their engine and showed them where Malaysia is," the officer said.
After, the boat entered Malaysian waters, where it was intercepted, he said. He declined to give his name.