Thailand to Deport 78 Myanmar Boat People

BANGKOK ~ Dozens of migrants from Myanmar who washed up in Thailand this week were convicted on Wednesday of illegal entry and will be deported, police said, raising fears that they may face persecution back home.

The 78 Muslim Rohingyas – 66 men and 12 teenage boys – were intercepted just after midnight Tuesday and taken into police custody amid accusations that the Thai military have abused other boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Colonel Veerasilp Kwanseng, commander of the Paknam police station where the Rohingya were detained, said the 66 adults were fined 1,000 baht (28 dollars) each for illegal entry, but could not pay so were jailed for five days.

“They will stay in prison until the term is finished and then immigration will take them before processing their deportation,” Veerasilp said.

The 12 Rohingya teenage boys who are under the age of 19 will not be jailed, but will be deported with the rest of the group, he added.

Accusations of mistreatment surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some claiming to have been beaten by Thai soldiers before being set adrift in the high seas to die.

Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.

Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said the fact that the 78 Rohingya were processed by police rather than the army was positive, but said they continued to press for access to the migrants.

The UNHCR has asked to see another group of 126 Rohingya reportedly detained in Thailand earlier this month, but authorities have denied they exist.

The Rohingya are stateless and face religious and ethnic persecution from Myanmar’s military regime, forcing thousands of them to take to rickety boats each year in a bid to escape poverty and oppression, and head to Malaysia.

The Thai foreign ministry earlier Wednesday “categorically denied” reports that it had mistreated any migrants.

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