BANGKOK — A spokesperson for Thailand's military government said the refugees from Myanmar found by foreign reporters in the Andaman sea today will continue traveling to another country.
The passengers told reporters the captain and crew dismantled the ship’s engine before abandoning them to starve at sea.
A boat of abandoned refugees from Myanmar found by reporters and naval officers off the coast of Satun province on 14 May 2015. [Photo: Royal Thai Navy]
Maj.Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a spokesperson of the Thai military government, said naval officers have provided the group with food and water and are currently repairing their boat.
According to Maj.Gen. Sansern, the refugees told Navy officers they intended to travel to another country, likely to be Malaysia or Indonesia, although the boat's passengers told the New York Times they had already been rejected by Malaysian authorities.
"We have given the Navy clear policy that if the refugees have an intention to land on the Thai coast, they are welcome to do so, and we will give them humanitarian assistance, but we will treat them in accordance with laws about illegal entry into the country," Maj.Gen. Sansern said.
"Once ships from the Third Region Navy inspected the boat and asked about the refugees’ intentions, we discovered that none of them intended to land on the Thai coast."
He added, "I expect that the engine repair of the refugee boat will be completed tonight. They will be able to continue their journey as they wish."
A recent crackdown on human smuggling in Thailand, a common pit stop for traffickers seeking to move migrants into Malaysia, has spurred many boat captains to abandon their human cargo. Human rights workers estimate that at least 8,000 migrants are currently stranded off shore with dwindling amounts of food, while no country in the region appears willing to take the desperate passengers in.
Many of the refugees have been identified as Rohingyas, a Muslim minority who faces state-sanctioned discrimination in Myanmar. The others hail from Bangladesh, where an estimated 300,000 Rohingyas live in impoverished refugee camps.
Thailand has called for an international summit to address the mounting humanitarian crisis on 29 May, but the UN and other human rights agencies say action must be taken sooner, before the Andaman sea becomes a floating cemetery.
"The Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian navies should stop playing a three-way game of human ping pong, and instead should work together to rescue all those on these ill-fated boats," said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director. "The world will judge these governments by how they treat these most vulnerable men, women, and children."
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