International human rights advocacy body Human Rights Watch has called on Thailand to allow the United Nations access to 211 Rohingya asylum seekers.
In a press release accompanying the publication of its study into the exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh, HRW says that Thailand has repeatedly failed to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to interview the Rohingya to determine their status.
The NGO drew comparisons with Malaysia, where Rohingya have similarly arrived by boat. Malaysia allowed the UNHCR to interview these detainees, and all of them were subsequently granted refugee status and released.
In contrast, Thailand plans to return its detainees to Myanmar. It deported 91 on January 22.
Human Rights Watch reports that the Rohingya, a muslim ethnic minority, have been “systematically persecuted” for decades. They have faced “extrajudicial killings, forced labor, religious persecution, and restrictions on movement – all exacerbated by a draconian citizenship law that leaves the Rohingya stateless”.
HRW Asia director Brad Adams said: “The persecution of Rohingyas in Burma is atrocious, but the Thai government continues to pretend that they are no different from any other undocumented migrant.”
The UNHCR itself has asked for access to the detainees in Thailand. On January 26 a spokesman for the refugee agency said that they were “certainly concerned” about their fate. They have not yet received an official response to the latest requests.
In 2009 Thailand was criticised by the UN for deporting thousands of hmong back to the Lao PDR, despite concerns for their safety there.