UNHCR seeks access to 126 Muslim Rohingya boat people in Thailand

News Stories, 20 January 2009

© Onasia/P.Charlesworth
A fishing boat moored off Thai islands in the Andaman Sea, where Rohingya boat people were reportedly stopped.

GENEVA, January 20 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday asked the Thai government for access to 126 detained Muslim Rohingya boat people in order to assess their situation and determine whether any of them are in need of international protection.

This follows UNHCR's expression of strong concern to the government last week over allegations that large groups of Rohingya boat people from Myanmar were intercepted in Thai waters, towed out to sea and left to die.

"According to information from our sources, a group of 80 Rohingya boat people are being held on Koh Sai Daeng Island off the Thai coast in the Andaman Sea. A further 46 Rohingya who were intercepted on a boat last Friday were reportedly handed over to Thai military authorities, and we are trying to determine where they are now," said UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond.

"Given the new Thai government's commitment to human rights, we are eager to discuss with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya ways that this crisis can be defused quickly in line with international humanitarian standards. We have stressed that the Thai government should take all measures to make sure the lives of the Rohingya boat people are not put at risk," Redmond told journalists in Geneva.

He said UNHCR welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban's announcement in the Thai media on Tuesday that he has ordered the defence minister to investigate accusations of maltreatment of the Rohingya boat people.

The Rohingya are stateless Muslims from northern Rakhine state in Myanmar. There are 28,000 Rohingya recognized refugees in two UNHCR camps in Bangladesh and some 200,000 unregistered Rohingya living outside the camps there. For several years now in this dry season, many of them have been desperate enough to risk their lives at sea in small boats sailing from Bangladesh or Myanmar, often turning up in Thailand, Malaysia or as far away as Indonesia.

Because the plight of the Rohingya is a regional problem, UNHCR is urgently seeking to discuss with the Thai government ways that all concerned countries can address the root causes that impel the Rohingya to put their lives at risk on such perilous journeys.

"We look forward to discussing with Foreign Minister Kasit ways that the new Thai government, given both its key role in the region and its current chairmanship of ASEAN [Association of South-east Asian Nations], can play a vital role in addressing this alarming regional issue," Redmond said.

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UNHCR country pages

Rescue at Sea

A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees.

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

Posted on 27 November 2006

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

"Living Silence" is a photographic exhibition of one of the world's most enduring refugee crises, by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees for over three decades. Today, 28,000 refugees from Myanmar known as the Rohingya - an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority people - are living in the two official refugee camps in the south-east of Bangladesh. Over half of them are children, many of whom have only ever experienced life in the camps. It is estimated that there are a further 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps, unable to return to Myanmar where they fear persecution and exploitation.

Like refugees around the world, the Rohingya refugees are survivors. They are living in transience, waiting for the day they can go home in safety and in dignity. Until then, like any other people, they aspire to live a life free from violence and exploitation.

Together with other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR provides shelter, water, primary education and health care to refugees from Myanmar in the Nayapara and Kutupalong camps. UNHCR is also working with governments around the world to resettle some of the most vulnerable.

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

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