Thailand surveying two isles for detention of migrants

Thailand surveying two isles for detention of migrants

The Prime Minister has ordered a survey of two unpopulated islands off Ranong with the view of using them to detain Rohingya migrants.

Sources familiar with the matter yesterday identified the islands as Kangkao and Kam Yai, which are under the care of the Department of National Parks.

In a bid to cope with the unabated issue of illegal migrants, the government is finding suitable places to be used as temporary holding centres for Rohingya and other migrants, but will avoid setting up permanent centres, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In response to a proposal by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to establish a multi-country working group to tackle the Rohingya and other migrant issues in this region, he said Thailand's policy was to ensure that illegal migrants were safely repatriated, as it could not accommodate people who entered the country illegally.

According to the prime minister, the government has no budget to pay for sheltering more illegal migrants as there are still more than 100,000 refugees in the country at nine detention centres. However, he said Thailand would work with other countries in the region to address this issue.

A regional conference on migration and human-trafficking problems will be hosted by Thailand on May 29 and will feature senior officials from 15 Indian Ocean countries and other nations.

In addition, police will attend a conference in Bali this weekend where human-trafficking issues will be discussed by 16 Interpol member countries. Prayut said the government had no plans to build new holding centres for illegal migrants.

Panitan Waiwatayakorn, a top government adviser on security issues, said the government would have to handle Rohingya and related issues carefully because Thailand's image in the international community could be negatively affected if migrants were abused by traffickers, as had been the case recently.

He suggested the government consider setting up temporary holding centres, although it would have to take into account the cost of building them and the sentiment of the people in the areas where they would be situated.

It would also have to weigh the pros and cons of building them, because their existence could encourage more illegal migrants into Thailand, he said.

However, if the government did nothing, the issue would worsen and the country's image would be hit hard, since the international community viewed Rohingya and some other migrant groups as political victims rather than economic refugees.

Panitan said the UNHCR could play a crucial role in this effort and Thailand could work with neighbouring countries to resolve the issue, adding that the government needed to base its human-trafficking policy and actions on immigration laws, the universal convention on sea safety and humanitarian principles.

Pol Colonel Worawat Amornwiwat, deputy chief of the Immigration Bureau, will represent Thailand at the Bali conference, along with officials from 15 other countries.

Interpol officials from various countries will share information and set guidelines to work together because international criminal syndicates are involved in trafficking activities across national borders.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to stop pushing back boats carrying Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants and asylum seekers, and bring them ashore and provide desperately needed aid.

As many as 8,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis are believed to be stranded in boats in the Andaman Sea and Malacca Strait without adequate food, water or sanitation, the International Organisation for Migration reported.

On Sunday, more than 2,000 people landed in Langkawi in Malaysia and in Indonesia's Aceh province after weeks at sea. They said they had not eaten in days and they suffered from serious health ailments from the cramped and unsanitary conditions on board the smugglers' boats.

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