The UNHCR refugee agency has asked the Thai government for access to some 126 Rohingya boat people detained in Thailand, after reports that large groups of the stateless Muslims were towed out to sea and left to die.
The Rohingyas are Muslims from Myanmar. Many have fled the Buddhist-dominated, army-ruled country to escape repression and economic hardship.
Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said that 80 Rohingyas are being held on Koh Sai Daeng island off the Thai coast. The whereabouts are unclear of 46 others who were intercepted on a boat on Friday and handed over to military authorities.
"We have a lot of concerns," he told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. "UNHCR would like to have access to these people as quickly as possible.
Rights groups say hundreds of Rohingyas were recently detained on a remote Thai island before being forced back to sea by the security forces with little food or water.
The Bangkok Post reported on Sunday that only 107 out of 412 refugees survived one such incident on Dec. 18. It spoke to survivors now in a relief camp on the Andaman Islands in India.
It also said there had been more recent incidents, including one in which 200 refugees were missing and may have died after being set adrift by Thai authorities. The UNHCR has received independent information in accord with some recent media reports about mistreatment, Redmond said, without providing details.
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday he would meet human rights groups to discuss reports of mistreatment of the Rohingyas, and the Thai foreign ministry has said it is looking into the allegations.
Last Mod: 21 Ocak 2009, 11:12
About 28,000 Rohingyas recognised as refugees are living in UNHCR camps in Bangladesh, many have been there since 1992 after fleeing persecution in their home country. A further 200,000 are unregistered, giving them uncertain legal status.
Frustration and desperation has prompted many Rohingyas to risk their lives in small boats sailing for Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, according to the UNHCR spokesman, who said those detained by Thai authorities appeared to include people from both Bangladesh and Myanmar.