Thai police find secret camp of 200 suspected ‘Turkish refugees’

The asylum seekers were discovered hiding in a rubber plantation in the country's deep south

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 9:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 9:43pm


Thai police have discovered about 200 suspected Turkish refugees at a secret camp in the country's deep south, officials said yesterday, describing the case as "unprecedented".

Thailand has long been a hub for people trafficking, with thousands of Rohingya boatpeople from neighbouring Myanmar believed to have passed through the kingdom in recent years.

The 200 refugees, who identified themselves as Turkish, were detained after a raid on a camp in a mountainous rubber plantation on Wednesday night in the southern Songkhla province.

"It is an unprecedented case that there are so many Turkish people arrested here," Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot said. "They came as families and look like they wanted to go somewhere else because they kept their belongings ready to move," he said.

Several suspected minders fled during the raid, the general added.

It was unclear how the refugees arrived in Thailand. Police were waiting for an interpreter to help question the detainees, who have yet to be charged with any crime.

The Turkish embassy said it had no information about their case, while the UN refugee agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, Thai authorities detained more than 700 Rohingya refugees after a raid on a suspected people-trafficking camp in its deep south, a Muslim-dominated region plagued by a nearly decade-long insurgency.

A Thai immigration official who raids jungle camps said that up to 10 gangs were involved in the large-scale people-smuggling operation.

Thatchai said at the time that the refugees' camps were simple structures with earthen floors and plastic sheeting overhead.

He said the Rohingya - a Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar - would be fingerprinted, interviewed and deported "back where they came from".

Thousands of Rohingya, described by the UN as among the world's most persecuted minorities, have been fleeing sectarian violence in western Myanmar in rickety boats since 2012. Most are believed to have headed for Malaysia.

Thailand said last year that it was investigating allegations that some of the country's army officials were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.