BANGKOK (AFP) – A boat carrying dozens of Rohingya refugees trying to reach Malaysia briefly stopped on a Thai island, an official said on Sunday (April 1), as fears grow about overcrowded camps for the stateless minority fleeing violence in Myanmar.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have sought shelter in southern Bangladesh since Myanmar launched a brutal crackdown on insurgents in August that the United States and United Nations have called ethnic cleansing.
But the refugees have arrived to find cramped settlements and often squalid conditions in Cox’s Bazar, where hundreds of thousands who fled previous waves of persecution are already living.
An agreement to repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar’s Rakhine state has yet to see a single refugee returned.
Rohingya migrants attempting the boat routes south have been a rare sighting since Thai authorities clamped down on regional trafficking networks in 2015, leaving thousands of migrants abandoned in open waters or jungle camps.
The Rohingya boat arrived off Thailand’s western coast in Krabi province early Sunday due to bad weather.
Images showed the passengers being interviewed on shore and then getting back into the boat before departing.
Krabi governor Kitibodee Pravitra confirmed that the people travelling on the boat were Rohingya but did not know where they had come from.
“The initial report said they were docking near Koh Lanta this morning to avoid the storm,” he said, referring to an island popular with tourists. “They want to go to Malaysia.”
The Rohingya on board would continue towards their destination, he said.
He said there were about 56 women, men and children on board.
Many of the Rohingya ensnared in the 2015 boat crisis wound up in Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia as Thailand stuck to a policy of not accepting the vessels.
Bangladeshi economic migrants have also taken the boat routes.
There are nearly 70,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers living in Malaysia, according to the most recent statistics from the UN refugee agency.