Influx of boat people a 'huge burden for Thailand': military spokesman

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2014 1:11 AM

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is buckling under the burden of sheltering and feeding hundreds of boat people over the past month, a senior government spokesman said on Thursday, and needs more help from rights groups and non-governmental organizations.

Many of the arrivals are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority from Myanmar, while others are Bangladeshi.

The arrivals follow reports of a surge in the number of people fleeing Myanmar's restive Rakhine State where tensions persist between the state's Muslim and Buddhist communities.

"Taking care of them is a burden for Thailand and we have to use a lot of money to look after them," Colonel Banpot Phupian, a spokesman for the military's Internal Security Operations Command, told Reuters.

"The international community is saying respect their rights but Thailand has to fend for itself and has to arrange food and other basic necessities for these people."

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine State since 2012 when violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists killed hundreds and made about 140,000 homeless - most of them Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

The boats often sail from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand where human trafficking-gangs hold thousands of boat people in jungle camps until relatives pay ransoms to secure their release.

Chris Lewa of The Arakan Project, which plots migration across the Bay of Bengal, said 12,000 Rohingya have boarded boats in northern Rakhine since Oct. 15.

Most are headed for Malaysia but many end up in Thailand after authorities intercept their boats or are waylaid and held for ransom at camps in Thailand by smugglers and traffickers.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)