Thailand picks up boatload of Rohingya near Phuket
112 members of Muslim minority held after their damaged vessel lands near Phuket
A boatload of 112 ethnic Rohingya, including 55 teenagers, has been taken into custody in Thailand after their vessel landed near Phuket over the weekend.
The boat, which landed on a beach near the township of Thai Muang, 60km north of Phuket, last Saturday, was apparently part of an ill-fated convoy of seven boats, at least one of which sank with about 130 of the Muslim minority from Myanmar on board. The fate of the other vessels is not known.
"They have told us that the boat was one of seven that left Rakhine province in western Myanmar about the same time," said a Thai policeman.
"One of the boats sank with more than 130 people on board. About 1,000 people in total were on all the vessels."
A Rohingya vessel was previously reported as having sunk off Bangladesh around October 29 or 30. Bangladeshi authorities said at the time that there were only 12 survivors out of the 135 people believed to have been on board.
Those who arrived in Phuket told police that they had departed from Sittwe, the capital of strife-torn Rakhine, on November 2. But it is possible that some vessels in the convoy had set out from neighbouring Bangladesh earlier, or that the dates given were incorrect.
The youngest of the Rohingya who landed near Phuket was identified as Mahud Duber, 14.
The vessel had been holed, preventing it from reaching its presumed final destination of Malaysia.
The boat was towed away by the Thai Navy and the men and boys were initially transported to the Immigration Office in Phang Nga Town, capital of the province north of Phuket.
But a woman at the office in Phang Nga said the Rohingya had been sent onwards.
"There was no room for them here," the woman said. "We only have a small cell here. They were all trucked to Ranong."
Ranong, a Thai port on the border with Myanmar, is where Myanmese illegal immigrants are taken to be sent back to their country.
That bodes ill for the Rohingya, who have been fleeing ethnic fighting in western Myanmar by the thousands.
Thailand generally does not allow the UN's refugee agency to meet Rohingya arrivals to assess their refugee status.
Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and thousands others forced to flee their homes in two waves of community violence in Rakhine, also known as Arakan, since June.