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Thailand to Allow UN Access to Presumed Rohingya Group

  • VOA News

The United Nations refugee agency says Thailand has agreed in principle to allow access to a group of about 850 people detained after fleeing sectarian violence in Burma.

The group, thought to contain Rohingya Muslim refugees, was detained this week during anti-trafficking raids in southern Thailand. The Thai government, which often deports Rohingya, has promised to give temporary assistance to the group.

In a statement Wednesday, the U.N. refugee agency welcomed those assurances. It said it hopes to soon visit the refugees and determine whether they are seeking asylum and need international protection.

Thousands of Muslim minority Rohingya have fled western Burma's Rakhine state, where the U.N. says 115,000 people are still internally displaced following communal violence last year.

The U.N. and rights groups have called on neighboring countries, including Thailand, to open their borders to the persecuted ethnic group, which is denied citizenship and many other basic rights in Burma.

Matthew Smith with Human Rights Watch says that Thailand's apparent decision to not immediately deport the refugees is a positive step. But he says the U.N. refugee agency should be given "urgent access" to all new arrivals coming into Thailand.

"The Thai authorities need to give sustained access to UNHCR so they can go take a closer look at the situation," he says. "We're still documenting serious abuses in Arakan [Rakhine] state," he said.

Human Rights Watch has urged Thailand, which is reluctant to absorb migrant workers from neighboring countries, to come up with a more comprehensive policy that would provide protection in coordination with U.N. agencies.

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