NAKHON SI THAMMARAT – Representatives from the United Nations refugee agency visited the 99 Rohingya who have been rescued from suspected human traffickers in southern Thailand today.
102 Rohingya refugees were intercepted in Nakhon Si Thammarat province on 13 January. The refugees, many of whom were children, were crammed into the back of several pickup trucks when police found them.
Two Thai drivers were arrested and charged with human trafficking, while other drivers managed to flee the scene, police say.
Three of the 102 Rohingya have died since they were rescued. One woman was found crushed to death at the scene, and two men died in police custody, one from dehydration and another from an infection. Police previously told the media that 98 refugees were found, but revised the number to 102 yesterday, citing "miscalculation."
Today officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) arrived at the shelter in Hua Sai district where the 99 Rohingya are being housed to inspect their condition, and provide them food and other necessities. The UNHCR officials also brought toys and educational equipment for the young refugees.
Serge Bertomio (name transcribed from Thai text), a UNHCR field officer, told reporters via an interpreter that the UNHCR is coordinating with the Thai government to tackle the issues related to the plight of the Rohingya.
Many Rohingya hail from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, where they are treated as second-class citizens by the predominantly Buddhist local population.
Waves of religious and ethnic violence in Rakhine have driven tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee their homes by boats and other means in recent years. It is believed that up to 140,000 Rohingya have been displaced by the anti-Rohingya violence.
The Myanmar government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens, claiming that they are from Bangladesh, while Bangladeshi authorities also refuse to grant the group citizenship, effectively making them a "stateless" people.
Reports by human rights groups and foreign media agencies have revealed instances of Thai smugglers exploiting the plight of the Rohingya by charging them exuberant fees in exchange for promises of a safe passage to another country.
In addition, many Rohingya never make it to their final destination, often set as Malaysia, because they are held for ransom in Thailand or sold as slaves to boats in the Thai fishing industry.
An officer at Hua Sai Police Station said the court has issued arrest warrants on three more Thais allegedly involved in the human trafficking of the Rohingya refugees.
"We are looking for them. Their charges carry a limitation of up to 15 years," the officer said.
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