The UN’s refugee arm said on Wednesday it had permission from Thailand to access some 850 people, many thought to be from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, held after raids on hidden camps in the Thai south.
Hundreds of migrants have been arrested in the past week in police sweeps on remote areas in rubber plantations near the border with Malaysia, leading the UNHCR to seek to confirm whether any of them planned to seek asylum.
“The Thai authorities have agreed in principle to give us access to this group,” Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office said.
“There are likely to be Rohingya among them, but we can’t confirm their identity without us first talking to them and doing a preliminary assessment.”
She said no date had been agreed yet, but that the UN was pushing to do the interviews “as soon as possible”.
Thousands of Muslim-minority Rohingya fled communal unrest in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, heading to Thailand and other countries.
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 180 people dead in the state since June, and displaced more than 110,000 others, mostly Rohingya.
Myanmar views the roughly 800,000 Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
The UN, which has called Rohingya one of the world’s most persecuted peoples, has urged Myanmar’s neighbours to open their borders to people escaping the communal violence.
Although tensions have eased since a fresh outbreak of killings in October, concerns have grown about the fate of asylum-seekers setting sail in overcrowded boats.
Thailand has faced pressure from rights groups to do more to help Rohingya migrants who reach its territory. The country has been accused of pushing them into neighbouring countries including Malaysia, which offers them sanctuary.
Human Rights Watch has said women and children are increasingly among the boatloads of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar.