New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said Thailand has given it the green signal to allow access to a few Rohingya boat people, who have been charged with illegally entering the country, after Thai officials were accused of mistreating boatpeople.
Kitty Mckinsey, spokesperson of UNHCR in Bangkok told Mizzima that during their meeting on Thursday with Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya gave a 'Positive Invocation' to allow access to 78 Rohingya boatpeople.
"We had a closed-door meeting this morning with the Foreign Minister," Mckinsey said, adding that Kasit expressed Thailand's willingness to "collaborate with the UNHCR."
The UN refugee agency since last week had requested Thailand to allow access to the Rohingya boatpeople, who they said were detained in an Island in Southern Thailand, to see if they require international protection.
However, Mckinsey said Thailand has not officially given permission to access the asylum seekers, who are now convicted for illegally entering the Kingdom.
"We don't know [the exact number of Rohingyas in Thailand], right now we are talking to the Thai government about access to 78, who are in detention in Ranong," Mckinsey said.
She added, "We still do not have formal permission but we have positive indication that we are going to get a formal reply soon."
Thailand came under severe criticism from human rights groups in recent weeks, when groups of Rohingya refugees, who were rescued from India's Andaman Island and Sabang Island in Indonesia, said they were pushed back to the sea on engine-less boats by the Thai Army, who intercepted them while crossing Thai waters.
"We have always said that it is inhuman to send people back out to sea," Mckinsey said. She added that the UNHCR is waiting for the report of Thailand's investigation on the army's mistreatment of boatpeople.
According to the Rohingyas, they were forced out of their homeland, in western Burma's Arakan state, as the Burmese military continues rampant human rights violations. They said, the junta denied them citizenship, right to education and owning of property
According to a Rohingya leader, Tun Khin, in United Kingdom, Rohingyas in Burma require permission for marriage and for traveling locally.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas are forced to seek better opportunity and security in foreign countries including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, Tun Khin said.
In order to help the Rohingyas, UNHCR has opened a field office in Arakan state but officials at the office were not reachable for comment.
"At the moment we are still trying to get access to them [Rohingyas] for a fact finding mission, to find out exactly who they are and where they come from and what their protection needs are," Mckinsey said. "Of course we know the situation of the Rohingyas in Myanmar [Burma]."
Following news of batches of Rohingyas being detained in Thailand, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an alliance of 56 Islamic countries, on Tuesday urged Thailand to provide necessary protection to the boatpeople under the 1951 UN convention on refugees.
Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the OIC, in a statement said, "Thailand needs to provide care and protection to the refuges in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 UN Convention and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees."
Chris Lom, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bangkok said, Rohingya issue cannot be handled by a single country.
"Solution [for migrant issue] needs to be found on a regional or global level," said Lom. "It's very difficult for a country to find the solution."
However, Lom said the Thai government has not requested their involvement in the issue and that they are only able to help the 193 Rohingyas, who were rescued in Sabang Island, by sending an interpreter to them.