News / Asia

Dozens of Rohingya Muslim 'Boat People' Escape Thai Prison

VOA News
Thai officials say dozens of Rohingya migrants from neighboring Burma have escaped from a detention facility where they were being held for illegally entering the country.

Police said Tuesday at least 86 Rohingya broke out of the facility in southern Sadao district. Media reports say they punched a hole through the ceiling and climbed out using a rope made of clothes. Officials say at least two have been rearrested.

Thailand is holding about 2,000 Rohingya "boat people" in immigration facilities across the country. The Rohingya have fled sectarian violence and government discrimination in Burma.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights [APHR], an unofficial group made up of lawmakers from various Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has called on Thailand to give the UNHCR and the Red Cross access to the detention centers.

APHR Chairperson Eva Kusuma Sundari said, “I’m not surprised with this escape as the situation in the detention camps is inhumane."

She added that the Rohingya issue has become a regional problem that requires a regional solution, so ASEAN member countries should no longer insist this is an internal problem of Burma.

The Thai government originally said it was looking for other countries that would take the Rohingya. Recently, it has considered a plan to move the migrants to refugee camps along the border with Burma.

That plan was slammed Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, which called for Thailand to release the Rohingya from what it called "inhumane detention" and allow them to seek migrant worker status.

Phil Robertson, Asia Director of HRW, said, “HRW calls on the Thai government to release them and to provide them with refugee status, as well as allow legal, medical and other assistance from local and regional organizations."

The New York-based group says many of the immigration centers holding Rohingya are severely overcrowded and lack access to medical care and other basic services.

The group says Rohingya men are being held in small, cage-like cells, where they barely have enough room to sit.  It says some of the women are subject to sexual and other types of exploitation.

Thailand has intercepted many Rohingya boat people at sea, redirecting them to third countries such as Muslim-majority Malaysia or Indonesia.  Human Rights Watch says Thailand is failing to offer the migrants protections guaranteed under international norms.  

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma's western Arakan, or Rakhine, state, where violence broke out with majority Buddhists last year.

In addition to the violence, Rohingya also are denied citizenship and other basic rights in Burma where they are considered immigrants from Bangladesh. The United Nations considers them one of the world's most persecuted minority groups.

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