, BANGKOK, Jan 11 – Around 400 Rohingya migrants discovered in a raid on a camp hidden in a remote rubber plantation in southern Thailand will be deported back to Myanmar, Thai police said Friday.
The group, 378 men, 11 women and 12 children, were found in a makeshift shelter in the plantation in Songkhla province where they had languished for three months waiting to be trafficked to a “third country”, local police said.
Acting on a tip-off officials stormed the shelter on Thursday and found the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group not recognised as citizens in Myanmar who have fled sectarian unrest in their thousands to Thailand and other countries.
“They are now waiting for deportation which will be done by Thailand’s immigration police,” Lieutenant Colonel Katika Jitbanjong of Padang Besar local police told AFP.
“They told officials that they had volunteered to come (to Thailand),” he said, adding police were seeking an arrest warrant for the Thai landowner on charges of human trafficking and sheltering illegal migrants.
Rights groups decry Thailand for failing to help Rohingya migrants who reach its territory, instead pushing them back to Myanmar or on to neighbouring countries including Malaysia, which offers sanctuary to the minority.
“Thailand is pursuing a beggar-thy neighbour approach,” according to Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia.
“Thailand is using the good policy of its neighbour (Malaysia) to escape its own international obligation to protect refugees and it is shameful.”
The UN refugee agency has called on Myanmar’s neighbours to open their borders to people fleeing a wave of communal violence in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 180 people dead in Rakhine 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.
Although the tensions have eased since a new outbreak of killings in October, concerns have grown about the fate of asylum-seekers setting sail in overcrowded boats.
Last week Thailand deported 73 Rohingya boat people back to Myanmar, after they landed on the southern island of Phuket.