A group of 62 barefoot, disheveled Rohingya migrants facing illegal entry charges in a Thai court yesterday pleaded not to be sent back to Myanmar where they said they were beaten, whipped and warned not to return by soldiers.
The 62 had been on a rickety boat filled with 78 migrants whom the Thai navy detained on Monday off Thailand’s southwestern coast.
If found guilty, the migrants could be expelled from Thailand, said Ranong police Colonel Weerasilp Kwanseng, an outcome that other officials have said is expected.
“Have pity on us,” one of the migrants, 50-year-old Mamoud Hussain said outside the provincial Ranong Courthouse. “They’ll kill me and my family if I go back.”
The plight of the Rohingyas — a stateless, Muslim ethnic group who fled persecution in Myanmar — was highlighted earlier this month following accusations that some of them had been abused by Thai authorities.
Human rights groups say the Thai navy has twice intercepted boats filled with hundreds of Rohingyas and sent them without food or water back to sea, where hundreds later died.
Thai authorities have repeatedly denied wrongdoing, insisting they only detain and repatriate illegal migrants.
Hussain said his group fled Myanmar about a month ago to escape poverty and persecution, and that the Myanmar navy intercepted their vessel as it sailed south toward Thailand. He said soldiers from four boats boarded their vessel with wooden and metal rods and beat them.
“When they arrested us, they punched, hit and whipped us continuously. They tried to burn the boat, and even beat up the teenagers,” Hussain said.
“They told us there are no Muslims in Burma, and they continued to beat us,” he said.
After being detained for 10 days, the migrants were released.
“They told us not to come back again, or they’ll shoot us all,” he said.
The Rohingya are illegal economic migrants, not refugees Thai authorities said yesterday .
“There is no reasonable ground to believe that these migrants fled from their country of origin for well-founded fear of being persecuted,” a government statement said.