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Burmese Boat People Arrive in Thailand Bearing Scars of Abuse, Expect Deportation


More boat people from Burma have arrived in Thailand with stories of abuse, this time allegedly commited by the Burmese military. Despite a prohibition on deporting those who would face torture, Thai authorities have indicated the group of Rohingya, a Muslim minority, will be sent back to Burma.

Thai police say 78 boat people are in custody after washing ashore Tuesday in southern Thailand.

Refugees say they were beaten by Burmese navy, then released

The Rohingya minorities told police and Thai media they traveled from Burma but were stopped by the Burmese navy, beaten, and then later released. Burmese authorites have not commented.

Thai media showed images of men with severe scars and lacerations on their backs being treated by Thai nurses.

Thai foreign ministry does not believe persecution claim

Despite the evidence of abuse, the Thai foreign ministry issued a statement saying there were no "reasonable grounds" to believe the Rohingya were fleeing Burma for fear of being persecuted - an indication that they would be sent back to Burma.

Kitty McKinsey is Asia spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"I would just point out that, under the convention against torture, which Thailand has signed, Thailand is prohibited from forcibly returning anyone to a country where they would face torture," she said.

When asked whether the boat people would likely be tortured if returned to Burma, McKinsey said Burma's human rights record was well-known.

Thailand denies mistreating Rohingya

Earlier this month the Thai military was accused of abusing Rohingya and towing their boats out to sea where hundreds were left for dead. The Thai government denied the mistreatment, but later said it would investigate.

The U.N. refugee agency had sought access to 126 Rohingya in Thai military custody but the request was ignored. The military then deported the Rohingya, with some reports saying they were towed back out to sea.

McKinsey says one welcome sign is the police and courts are handling the 78 boat people now in custody rather than the military.

"If Thailand truly feels that they are illegal immigrants then they should be handled through the immigration channels and they should certainly not be pushed back to sea by the military," she said.

The Rohingya have been fleeing Burma by the hundreds for years, many of them headed for Malaysia to find work but ending up in Thailand.

Bangkok says about 20,000 are in Thailand illegally, creating security problems and taking jobs from Thais.

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