Rohingya Muslims in Thai court fear expulsion order

Thailand denied on Wednesday that Rohingya Muslims was refugees, sending them the Thai court without lawyers.

Rohingya Muslims in Thai court fear expulsion order

Thailand denied on Wednesday that Rohingya Muslims was refugees, sending them the Thai court without lawyers and an opportunity to defend themselves.

The Rohingyas are a stateless Muslim minority group who face persecution in Myanmar, whose military government does not recognise them as citizens.

Rohingya caught in Thai waters are "illegal economic migrants", not refugees, and will never be let in, Thailand said.

"There is 'no reasonable ground' to believe that these migrants fled from their country of origin for well-founded fear of being persecuted," reported Reuters, quoting what government statement said.

On Wednesday 66 members of the group appeared in court in the town of Ranong in southern Thailand to hear charges of illegally entering the country.

If found guilty, the "migrants" could be expelled from Thailand, said Ranong police Col. Weerasilp Kwanseng, an outcome that other officials have said is expected.

Four of the migrants were hospitalized and 12 minors have been detained by immigration police because they are too young to be tried in a court, Weerasilp said.

"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."

A dozen of the group were under 18 and several had scars and open wounds on their bodies.

In the last two months, 550 Rohingya are feared to have drowned after the army forced 1,000 found in Thailand's Andaman Sea into rickety wooden boats before towing them out to international waters and cutting them adrift.

The military and government insist the "men were given adequate food and water and deny persistent allegations the boats' engines were sabotaged or, in one case, never existed at all."

It promised to "look into" the reports.

In a break with the army's recent processing of the migrants on a remote, uninhabited island, a group of 78 found this week were handed over to police in the southwest province of Ranong for processing in the courts as illegal aliens.

Police said they had reported being beaten en route by officials of Myanmar's military junta, calling into question Bangkok's blanket assertion that the Rohingya do not face persecution in their country of origin.

Decades of abuse

According to the United Nations refugee agency, 230,000 Muslim Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, having fled their ancestral homes in northwest Myanmar after decades of abuse and harrassment at the hands of the country's Buddhist military rulers.

The junta does not recognise the Rohingya as one of the former Burma's 130-odd ethnic minorities, and those in the northwest are restricted from travel inside the country.

Although the Rohingya have only made domestic headlines this week, the reports of abuse by his armed forces have led to questions about Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's oft-stated "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."

The Thai News Agency reported that Myanmar had agreed to "cooperate by preventing the Rohingya from approaching Thai territory".

Agencies

Last Mod: 28 Ocak 2009, 14:00
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