(Part of The Darkness Visible series)
(Rohingya Preparing To Flee)
Every day off the coast of Burma the Rohingya people take to the sea in hopes of fleeing the ethnic clashes that have enveloped much of their homeland. These "terrorist", "invaders", and "outsiders" have been targeted for extermination in what appears to be a repeat of ethnic cleansing campaigns of the past. They are an indigenous minority of the region. The areas along the border with Bangladesh and Myanmar has been their home for as long as anyone can tell. But for now, once again, many are forsaking Myanmar and its abuses and risking everything by throwing themselves at the mercy of the sea.
Around half of those who attempt to flee Myanmar by the water die at sea. Their bodies and their names are forever lost to the cruel ocean and their lives forgot by those who drove them there in the first place. In many ways the ocean is just playing its part in Myanmar's genocide.
For 112 Rohingya the voyage out of Myanmar took them somewhere just north of Phuket, Thailand yesterday. This refugee boat was different form most however in the fact that the majority of the refugees were children. 56 of the refugees were teenagers, with the youngest being only 14 years old. The remaining 46 are believed to be under the age of 26.
So what happened to this ship full of Rohingya boys? Are they safe in Thailand? Are they getting aid from the UN in a ASEAN nation?
This is the disappointing and rather scary nature of what happens to Rohingya refugees when they have the misfortune of landing in Thailand. If they are allowed to land at all.
Upon landing in the province of Phang Nga the Rohingya were most likely "greeted" by Thai military or coast guard. We do not know who made it to the shipwreck site first. All we do know is that the Thai authorities had scuttled the ship and dispersed the Rohingya before anyone could claim these boys were refugees. This is the customary approach in Thailand. If the ship can't be dragged back out to sea then it will be destroyed and the people aboard told to disappear. Rohingya are not granted refugee status in Thailand.
For a few brief moments that Thai authorities did classify the Rohingya as "Burmese". This is ironic since the Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar itself. But the act of being called a citizen is not the same thing as being a citizen for Rohingya. The Thai may have or may be in the act of sending the Rohingya back to Myanmar. Nobody can say for sure what happened to the boys.
It is a simple fact that human rights organizations are not granted access to Rohingya refugees within Thailand. Had the Rohingya been classified as refugees we would have known. Groups like the Red Cross or the UN would have been on the scene to do their job... we would hope. But the Rohingya aren't allowed that comfort in Thailand.
Instead these boys did what all Rohingya do when they are unfortunate enough to crash in Thailand. They vanished.
The most likely explanation is that the Thai police most likely rounded up the boys and sent them to the border with Burma. There they were most likely deported back to the country they attempted to flee from. And with their money spent on this first failed attempt... it will most likely be a long time before any of the 112 Rohingya try to flee again.
As for Thailand.
The lack of humanity shown by the Thai is not new or unique to this latest outbreak of ethnic cleansing in Burma. The Thai have for decades now used their navy to "help along" Rohingya boats that loose power or become disabled off the Thai coast. The practice of shipping Rohingya back to Burma has been standard policy in Thailand for just as long. It is blatantly obvious that the Rohingya just plain are not welcome in Thailand.
Instead of offering to let outside human rights organizations access to the refugees, Thailand stonewalls any attempt by the media or human rights groups to investigate the issue. Any offer to help the Rohingya is denied since the Thai do not want to "encourage" more refugees. And absolutely no sense of transparency is eluded to as the Thai secretly wage war on the world's most neglected group of people.
In the case of the lost boys... never-never land is just a dream.