UN chief urges Thai PM to treat boat people with dignity

A Rohingya migrant (R) eats food supplies dropped by a Thay army helicopter after he was rescued by National Park officials as he was collecting the supplies at sea after jumping from a boat (unseen) drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Thai government yesterday to offer proper treatment to boat people, saying they deserved "human dignity and basic rights", while also supporting Thailand's move to hold an international forum late this month to try to resolve the crisis.

UN chief Ban made a phone call to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday morning to voice concerns over the plight of Rohingya from Myanmar and migrants from Bangladesh, Deputy Army spokesman Wirachon Sukhonthap-atiphak said.

The UN estimates that more than 25,000 migrants have got into boats in the Bay of Bengal to seek work and better lives in Southeast Asia since last October.

Some have already managed to land while thousands are still afloat at sea, as no country in the region wants to welcome them. On Friday, Ban urged governments in Southeast Asia to facilitate timely disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open, so as to help vulnerable people.

Prime Minister Prayut told the UN chief during their phone conversation his government was closely monitoring the migrant crisis and providing necessary humanitarian assistance to them, the spokesman said.

"Thai officials found the latest group last week and gave assistance to them by fixing their boat engine, giving fuel, food, water and medicine, as they wanted to go to another country," Wirachon said.

Authorities would not allow them to land on Thai shores, as officials said the migrants wanted to go to another country. Thailand is set to host a special meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean on May 29 in Bangkok with participants from 15 affected nations such as Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.

Prayut told Ban that representatives of these countries and international organisations will exchange views and seek solutions to solve the problem constructively, Wirachon said.

The forum, as Prayut said, would show Asean unity to take responsibility for the fate of human beings. However, Myanmar, a member of Asean, said on Friday it was unlikely to attend the forum.

Deputy spokesman for the PM's Office Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd has said Thailand is willing to cooperate with other nations to solve the issue of irregular migration by Rohingya refugees.

However, a suggestion that Thailand should provide shelter and employment for the migrants was not a proper solution and may violate Thai laws and internal security, he said.

The proper solution for this problem is for international organisations to help regulate refugees from their country of origin, Sansern said.

Army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr said yesterday that Thailand would not set up shelters or refugee camps - as the US has urged - but would set up a temporary holding area pending other countries being prepared to take such people in.

Udomdej said authorities were still looking for the appropriate location for such a facility. He said the government tried to get people in hiding, who entered the country illegally, to step forward so they could be treated in accordance with human rights principles.

"Other countries should see Thailand's good intention as we are the transit country and doing our best to solve the problem."

He said many arrest warrants had been issued for the people trafficking the boat people. The Fourth Region Army would arrange joint security teams to check targeted areas in Songkhla and Satun.

In the crackdown on human trafficking, an arrest warrant was issued yesterday for one more suspect - Dared Mansatoh in Songkhla's Rattaphum district - for his alleged role in the trafficking of migrants including Rohingya.

Police spokesman Pol Lt-General Prawut Thawornsiri said this took the number of people wanted to 62. And two wanted people were expected to surrender to police late yesterday.

Pichai Khong-eiang and Wirat Bensoh surrendered yesterday afternoon to Songkhla police, bringing the number of suspects in custody to 29.

- The Nation/Asia News Network


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