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UNHCR calls for joint response in wake of "Rohingya mass grave" in Thailand

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UNHCR calls for joint response in wake of "Rohingya mass grave" in Thailand

6 May 2015

BANGKOK, May 6 - The UN refugee agency is deeply concerned at this week's discovery of dozens of bodies in smugglers' camps in southern Thailand. The agency calls on countries in the region to strengthen cooperation on counter-smuggling and counter-trafficking measures while ensuring the protection of victims.

In recent days Thai authorities have announced that they found the remains of some 30 people believed to originate in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Investigations are ongoing, with initial police accounts citing illness and abuse as likely causes of death.

"It's distressing to hear that people who escaped difficult conditions back home have had to put their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers, only to be killed before they could reach safety," said James Lynch, UNHCR's Regional Representative and Regional Coordinator for South-East Asia.

This is the first time that graves of a large number of people believed to be of concern to UNHCR have been identified. In the last year UNHCR has learnt from hundreds of Rohingya survivors about horrific abuse and deprivation by smugglers on boats in the Bay of Bengal and in camps along the Thai-Malaysian border. Some said they saw people dying from beatings and lack of food. These findings have been shared with governments to advocate for urgent action.

In Thailand UNHCR has been helping the authorities to care for people of concern who are caught in these situations. The agency assists people rescued in law enforcement raids from smugglers' camps by providing immediate relief such as clothes, blankets and hygiene kits. UNHCR staff also conduct interviews, help reunite families who were split during the journey, provide counseling support and identify possibilities of resettlement to third countries for the most vulnerable people.

In Malaysia, UNHCR conducts protection monitoring in Rohingya communities and intervenes for the release of new maritime arrivals known to be in detention. The agency also supports refugee communities in the implementation of livelihood, community development, or skills-building and education projects.

"Smuggling is a regional problem that requires coordinated efforts by countries in the region, including countries of origin, transit and destination," said Lynch. "Law enforcement measures must be accompanied by efforts to reduce the need for migrants and refugees to turn to smugglers in the first place, including by addressing the root causes driving people to undertake these dangerous journeys."

In Myanmar's Rakhine state - where many of the smuggling victims originate - UNHCR has long advocated for and stands ready to support concerted efforts to stabilize the situation

through the realization of rights for all, reconciliation, socio-economic equality and addressing issues related to citizenship.

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