Thailand offered yesterday to host a regional conference to prevent the mass migration — and resulting suffering — of refugees, after the Thai navy was accused of brutally mistreating boat people from Bangladesh.
Thai Foreign Ministry officials met envoys from India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Myanmar to discuss the exodus of refugees from camps in Bangladesh, ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdee said.
“We are also in talks with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees both in Thailand and in Geneva to help alleviate what these people are facing right now,” he said.
Thousands of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas — members of a stateless, Muslim ethnic group that fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Myanmar — leave Bangladesh aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work elsewhere. One of the most popular migration routes in recent years has been by boat to Thailand, then overland to Malaysia.
Thailand has recently come under fire for allegedly mistreating those migrants.
Two migrants told a refugees’ advocacy group they were among hundreds detained and beaten by Thai authorities on a remote island and abandoned in the Indian Ocean in boats with no engines and only a few bags of rice.
The Bangkok-based Arakan Project provided transcripts of the migrants’ accounts on Friday. It was the second time the group has released testimony from Bangladeshi and Rohingya illegal migrants who allege the Thai navy has left hundreds of them at sea twice since last month. About 300 are believed to have drowned in one of the incidents.
Thai military officials have repeatedly denied they forced migrants out to sea, insisting they only detain and then repatriate them.
The survivors who spoke to Arakan are jailed on India’s remote Andaman islands, where they were taken after an Indian helicopter spotted them on an island.
According to their accounts, they were headed from Bangladesh to Thailand when their boats were intercepted around Dec. 27 by Thai naval ships. They were detained with hundreds of other migrants for several days on a deserted Thai island in the Andaman Sea.
The migrants said they survived on banana leaves and handfuls of rice and were beaten by guards whom they identified as Thai security forces.
The Thai government initially denied the abuse charges, but Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said they would be probed.