Bangkok: Around 65 ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugees were found stranded in southern Thailand, Thai officials said on Wednesday.
An official told Dawn that the refugees, including 28 men, 31 women and five children, were stranded on Rawi Island in Tarutao National Park in Thailand’s southern Satun province after their boat suffered engine trouble.
Kanjanapan Kamhaeng, the chief of Tarutao National Marine Park, was also quoted as saying that the boat was found smashed onto a rocky shore. A preliminary check showed that the boat was carrying 65 Rohingya and several Thai and Myanmar citizens, he added.
He also stated that the Thai navy took the group away to be processed by immigration officials.
Meanwhile, Navy officer Commander Thanapong Sudrak told Dawn that Thai authorities are investigating whether the incident involved any case of human trafficking.
Rohingyas, who belong to the Rakhine state in Myanmar, have been facing extreme persecution by authorities and majority Buddhists. It has further prompted their flight over the years, many on rickety boats that are mostly pushed back into the open sea by countries, especially Thailand and Myanmar.
At present, nearly one million Rohingyas are forced to take shelter in Bangladesh after Myanmar’s army, responding to attacks by an armed group, launched a brutal campaign against the Muslim minorities in the Rakhine state in 2017.
A Thai government official was further quoted as saying that the passengers of the wrecked boat will be transferred to the mainland.
“Everyone will be investigated in order to see whether they are victims of trafficking or illegal immigrants,” the official said.
Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps in Rakhine since violence swept the area in 2012.
The unrest prompted thousands of minorities to flee Myanmar by sea. The exodus peaked in 2015 when an estimated 25,000 people crossed the Andaman Sea for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats.