Monday, 28 January 2013 12:23 THE BANGKOK POST
Thailand will shelter the Rohingya for six months and seek talks with Myanmar and other countries to settle the fate of the illegal migrants, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Friday.
The decision was reached in talks between the Foreign Ministry and other security agencies amid growing calls for Thailand not to turn the migrants away after they have entered the kingdom.
The final say still rests with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has to endorse the plan after it is forwarded to her soon.
According to latest counts by officials, 1,390 Rohingya are in the country, more than 200 of them women and children. Most of them are staying in the southern border provinces, mainly in Songkhla.
The government will set aside a budget of 12 million baht (US $400,000) or 75 baht ($2.50) a day for each of them for a daily allowance.
Bangkok will hold talks with international agencies including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross for support on Thailand's plan.
Thailand would also approach third countries willing to give the migrants a new home, the minister said.
Mr Surapong did not rule out sending the Rohingya back to Myanmar because most of them came from the neighbouring country. The issue will be the subject of talks between the two governments, he added.
Illegal migrants are subject to be deported in six months, according to Thai law.
Thailand will bring up the issue with officials of the Organisation of Islamic Conference when they visit the southern region. Talks are also planned with the British ambassador to Thailand in an attempt to find a solution, as Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was once a colony of Britain.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar. Most of them live in Rakhine state in the west and face brutal treatment from Myanmar authorities, including the reluctance of Naypyitaw to grant them citizenship.
The current crisis came to light after authorities rounded up more than 900 Rohingya in separate operations in Songkhla as they were waiting to be sent to work in Malaysia.
A police investigation found some Thai army soldiers were linked to trafficking them from Myanmar to Malaysia through Thailand. Two of them based in the southernmost region are being probed in connection with the issue.
In Prachuap Khiri Khan province, meanwhile, Rohingya refugees have gone on a hunger strike to demand an improvement in the meals provided by authorities.
About 120 Rohingya men have been transferred from Phang Nga province to a detention facility run by immigration police in Muang district, awaiting their deportation.
Disease-control officials also gave the men physical check-ups with help from Burmese interpreters.
The Muslim refugees will remain at the facility until otherwise ordered. Two large rooms have been set aside for prayers.
An interpreter said that the refugees were demanding the Thai government coordinate with the UN in helping them seek asylum in another country. They refuse to return to Myanmar because they fear for their safety.
Many of them complained that the 75 baht allocated per day per person for food is not enough. They want better quality food in larger portions. They went on a hunger strike, but some were later talked out of it.
Yusuf Towang, the president of a Muslim organisation in the province, said he had been working with immigration authorities to help the Rohingya.
The Muslim community would collect donations to buy them food, clothing and other essentials to alleviate their problems before they are to be moved to another location, he said.
This article first appeared in The Bangkok Post on January 25, 2013.