[TIME] A Boat Carrying 56 Rohingya Refugees Made a Stop in Southern Thailand
By ELI MEIXLER April 2, 2018
A boat carrying Rohingya refugees stopped on an island in southern Thailand Sunday, raising concern that overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh and violence in western Myanmar could lead to the reopening of dangerous sea migration routes.
With 56 Rohingya refugees on board, the vessel received supplies after stopping on Lanta island, in Thailand’s southern Krabi province, following a heavy storm, Reuters reports.
“We treated them with humanitarian consideration and allowed them to return to sea because they told us they were heading to Malaysia,” the island’s police chief told Reuters, adding that local residents gave the refugees food and water.
An estimated 671,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled Rakhine for Bangladesh since August, when attacks by a Rohingya militant group sparked brutal military reprisals.
The U.S. said the ensuing violence “constitutes ethnic cleansing,” while the U.N.’s top human rights official suspects “acts of genocide.”
Rights groups warn that those refugees, who are housed in improvised camps, are at greater risk as the monsoon season approaches.
The emergence of the boat this week recalled a migration crisis in 2015, which saw an estimated 25,000 Rohingya attempt to reach Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia by boat. Many died after being abandoned at sea without food or water by human traffickers.
Malaysia maintains a policy of turning back refugee boats unless weather conditions are bad, the country’s Coast Guard chief, Zulkifili Abu Bakar, told Reuters.
“Our concern is that if we allow one boat in, we have to allow other boats in after that,” Zulkifili said.