Thailand is 'shouldering refugee burden alone'

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Foreign organisations have always been quick with promises to help Thailand care for refugees fleeing violence, but rarely deliver, leaving the Kingdom to shoulder the burden alone, Armed Forces Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn said yesterday.

Standard procedures in dealing with illegal immigrants, which stipulate that they be repatriated, should be maintained, or else the illegal entry of Rohingya into Thailand would continue, he said. In the meantime, "Thailand is following a principle of feeding them and taking care of them, on humanitarian grounds," he added.

"[Foreign agencies] always say that they want to help, but hardly ever do, so the burden falls on Thailand." the general said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said later that setting up camps to accommodate Rohingya "did not address the ongoing problem", while coordination between Thai authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and foreign relief agencies was underway.

Asked about the possibility of repatriating the Rohingya to Myanmar, where they are considered by many to be an oppressed group who would face further persecution upon return, Yingluck said: "Don't put it that way. We are considering what safer places they should be placed in, at a later stage."

In earlier comments, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung had not ruled out the possibility of setting up a camp to accommodate several hundred Rohingya who had entered Thailand illegally, if the number kept growing.

"So far they are not in large numbers, and the Interior Ministry will make a final decision on this," he said.

"The best option remains seeking third countries to host them - a process being worked out by the Foreign Ministry," he added.

Rohingya migrants have been hosted in many provinces, cared for in part with donations provided by local Muslims and Buddhists, while those in poor health have received medical assistance.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official Bjorn Rahn visited Hat Yai Police Station in Songkhla, where 20 Rohingya have been detained for illegal entry.

Rahn said later that he was happy with the conditions of the detention cells and promised to deliver more ICRC supplies to the detainees, while moving forward with legal procedures to help them.

At a shelter in Narathiwat's Yi Ngor district, Muhammad Sabar, 14, led a prayer giving thanks to donors who gave relief supplies to him and 17 other young Rohingya.

He also pleaded with Thai authorities to look for his parents, who disappeared while journeying to Thailand.

"I thank all Thai people who have helped us. I never knew Thai people were full of compassion. If Myanmar were [a peaceful place] like Thailand, none of us would have left it," the boy said through an interpreter.

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