Rohingya Find Welcome in Thailand’s Conflict-hit Deep South

 Rohingya refugee Sakir Husan, center in yellow prayer cap, sits surrounded by well-wishers at a house in the capital of southern Thailand's Pattani Province. (Photo: Joe Jackson / The Irrawaddy)

Rohingya refugee Sakir Husan, center in yellow prayer cap, sits surrounded by well-wishers at a house in the capital of southern Thailand’s Pattani Province. (Photo: Joe Jackson / The Irrawaddy)

PATTANI, Thailand — The three conflict-ridden provinces of Thailand’s Deep South are not a popular destination for many visitors. A renewed and intensifying insurgency, which has killed more than 5,300 people since 2004, provides a daily diet of military check-points, assassinations and bombings.

But for Sakir Husan, 18, and other ethnic Rohingya fleeing sectarian violence in Burma’s Arakan State, the region is proving a welcome escape from the nightmares of their lives back home. Husan is part of a 22-strong group—18 men and four women—currently being housed in the capital of Pattani Province since Jan. 16.

They are among hundreds of Rohingya who have landed on the shores of southern Thailand this month and then been dispersed across the country by the authorities. But in contrast to the frosty reception Rohingya have often received from the Thai state, which has been criticized by human rights groups for previously returning them to sea or overland to Burma, the group in Pattani has received the warmest of welcomes from the local—predominantly Malay-Muslim—population.

“I am happy to be here—and that everybody has been so kind,” a visibly drained Husan tells The Irrawaddy through a translator, surrounded by local well-wishers. The 18-year-old, wearing a small prayer cap and longyi, says he felt he had little choice but to leave his home—and parents—behind in the Arakan State capital Sittwe.

“Before we left our homeland, we felt like we would be killed. So we decided to take our chances at sea, and maybe we can survive,” he explains. Husan says the group spent 20 days at sea in a boat packed with 143 people, surviving by drinking rain and seawater and never giving up hope.

“Some people were in the depths of the boat, others had no energy, but we eventually made it,” he adds.

He was separated from his brother on arrival in Thailand, and has not heard from him since. Although he has a cousin in the group in Pattani, the trauma of being apart from his family is taking its toll: “Even though I’m here, my heart misses my parents—they are still in Burma, they could not leave.”

In an apparent show of Muslim solidarity, scores of locals have been flocking daily to the government building in Pattani where they are being housed to meet the Rohingyas and donate everyday essentials. Among the items piling up at the center are sacks of rice, noodles, biscuits, canned food, water, eggs, toiletries and mats to sleep on.

“I want to donate—we are all brothers so we have to help,” says Medina Adulyarat, 22, a Pattani local who came to donate items, comfort the refugees and talk to them through translators.

Although both the Rohingya in Burma and elements of the Malay-Muslim population in Thailand’s Deep South are involved in varying degrees of conflict with their respective neighboring Buddhist communities, locals in Pattani deny this is the basis for their sympathy and support.

“The situations are very different,” says Shakira Haji Marwan, a local education worker donating detergent, soap and toothbrushes. “The Burmese government doesn’t even recognize them as citizens, while here Malay-Muslims are at least recognized as part of the Thai nation state.”

For Marwan, the compassion being shown is simply human. “We pity them because from what we know they were treated badly in Burma—not as human beings but as animals. So as a Muslim, when I know Rohingyas are here, I try to help [with] what I can. Most Muslim people here, when they heard what had been happening to them in Burma, they prayed to God for their protection.”

The group in Pattani are being temporarily housed in an office of the Thai government’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. The space is so small some of the men are sleeping outdoors under tarpaulins. It is unclear how long they will be there.

The government is still deciding how to deal with the latest arrivals of Rohingya—numbering as many as 4,000 in the last three months. State agencies were meeting on Jan. 25 ahead of forthcoming discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). NGOs have been pushing for unfettered access to the Rohingya, with some success. Staff from the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been visiting them across the country, including in the Deep South, to check on living conditions, help establish contact with their relatives back in Arakan State and provide basic basic necessities.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, wants the government to formulate a consistent and more humane policy towards the Rohingya. He tells The Irrawaddy that Thai people across the country have shown remarkable and admirable support for the migrants—and that the authorities should follow their example.

“In the past the Rohingya have been classified as a security threat. Recent weeks shows nothing could be further from the truth—these people come with nothing. So the Thai government should do the right thing,” he says.

The Thai Supreme Commander, Gen Tanasak Patimaprogorn, has called on the international community to provide more assistance for the refugees. But Robertson says stemming the flood of Rohingya to the shores of southern Thailand requires like-minded Southeast Asian nations to put more pressure on the Burmese government to grant them full citizenship and end their stateless plight. “It just has to stop: that’s what the message needs to be,” he says.

Meanwhile, the recent mass arrivals of Rohingya in Thailand have focused the spotlight on the smuggling of refugees from Burma and the possible role of the Thai Army in the process. The country’s Anti-Human Trafficking Center, part of the Department of Special Investigations, said this week an investigation into the wave of Rohingya migrants arriving in southern Thailand found they were not victims of organized mass human trafficking. But The Bangkok Post reports that police are probing two military officers attached to the powerful Internal Security Operations Command who are suspected of involvement in the smuggling of Rohingya. The pair, holding the rank of sublieutenant and major, are being investigated by an Army panel, according to the newspaper.

Rohingya migrant Sakir Husan says he paid nobody to board the boat fleeing Arakan and was not aware of Army involvement in his journey. He told The Irrawaddy he has only one request of the Thai authorities: “I just don’t want to go back to Burma.”

13 Responses to Rohingya Find Welcome in Thailand’s Conflict-hit Deep South

  1. So called Rohingya refugees are Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh. They belong to Bangladesh and they must be sent back to Bangladesh. Bangladesh can not expect the neighboures to solve her overpopulation problem. It drives out its religious minorities from Chittagong Hill Tracts and encourage the Bengali Muslims to infiltrate the neighboring countries. Bangladesh is the main culprit, it must be held accountable for jihad and terrorism.

    • If Bangladesh is to be condemned as main culprit as you considered,why don’t Thein Sein government and people of Burma dare to oppose the Bangladesh government directly?There are many possible diplomatic ways to deal with Bangladesh government,if we consider Bangladesh is responsible for the problems.Instead, we are shouting within ourselves and evading to confront with Bangladesh.This way can only depict ourselves as cowards.

    • Arjun! I guess you are an Indian origin and you have the guts to tell Bangladesh about its over-population, have you looked at Indian population growth? The poverty, caste division, wealth gap, and other social indicators are shocking. I advise you and other of your Myanmar friends to look at the UNDP report where Bangladesh belong.

      Unlike India and Myanmar, Bangladesh proud to have a strong secular and social movement, that’s why we don’t see BJP/Shiv Sena/Arakan Nationalist likewise racist party ever govern Bangladesh.

    • >>Arjun I totally agree with u.
      They should be sent back to Bengladesh, their true home, their true origin.

  2. Shakira Haji Marwan comments – malay-muslims are recognized as part of the thai nation – can he explain why some 5000+ people have been killed in the insurgency in S. Thailand. This is the ungratefullness shown to your adopted country – Rohingas have been at it since Myanmar Independence

    • Shame on you, thein mg for your unworthy comment,as you are showing your lack of historical knowledge.Malay muslims were not adopted by Thailand and the three states in southern Thailand,Pattani, Yala,and Surat thani are once ruled by Malay rajas,and a Siamese king invaded into these states and put into the Thai kingdom.This well known episode is similar to the King Bodaw Phaya’s occupation of Arakan and destruction of Marauk dyansty. These three states in southern Thailand are the ancestral lands of Malay muslims.Learn more on History before making inconsistent comments .

      • I accept your reasoning, southern states once ruled by Malay Rajas, Bangladesh, Pakistan were provinces of India, Britain once ruled half the world, what are you proposing

      • than thun, your historical knowledge is not bad, but still not really accurate. From the 7th to 13th century AD, the whole Malay Peninsula was part of the
        Hindu Kingdom, “Srivijaya” centered in Palembang, Sumatra. Later, it became part of a new Hindu Kingdom, “Majapahit” centered in Eastern Java which was converted into Islam by Arab traders in the 14th century. By the 15th century, the Malay Peninsul fractured into 10 small sultanates of which 5 became vassal to Siam while Malacca was taken by the Dutch. The British colonised most of them in the 20th century, leaving the sultanate of Pattani still vassal to Siam, but about to be grabbed by the British. King Rama 5 then
        persuaded the Sultan to sign a treaty integrating Pattani into Siam which was
        shown to the British Governor in Penang. In fact, Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims (we don’t call them Malay) have been living in harmony, often mixing together in the same village like relatives, for a long, long time until some young-blood Muslim extremists who were educated in Egypt, Libia and Saudi Arabia came back and stirred up troubles about 10 years ago. Also, just to let you know 3 troubled Southern provinces are Yala, Pattani and Narathiwas, formerly parts of the sultanate of Pattani.

  3. Bangladesh news media had revealed that terrorist groups are conspiring to establish a new country with some districts of Bangladesh and Rakhine state of Myanmar. The conspiracy to create an independent “Newrosia” state is getting fullest support from the Muslim population in Arakan province in Myanmar, as well as some of the Muslim nations in the world. They are getting organized by publicizing that Rohingya Muslims were tortured by NASAKA. The report further stated that to start their arms operation one and half a dozen Rohingya militant groups agreed to form Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU).

    Another report reveals the world wide conspiracy to establish a Sharia state within the eastern province in Bangladesh and the entire Rakhine state in Myanmar.

  4. Good on Thailand or rather the Muslim community receiving them with open arms. It’s kicking the can down the street of course and expected to fuel Thailand’s own problems of the same kind.

    The price we pay for sharing land borders with overpopulated Muslim countries spilling over down the centuries. They should all head for the Middle East and the liberal West on ocean liners provided by the Saudis. We have no room for proselytizing land grabbing folk. We’ve had enough problems in the past with such people from the West and a nice legacy they left us in way of communal strife for an eternity.

  5. More recruits for the terrorist organisations in Southern Thailand. They will export this back to Buirma once they are trained up.

  6. Great!! Take away ur family too.
    Stay Out and Dont ever come back!

  7. Pan Thazin
    I Agree with you. Those 3 provinces of Thailand were like Arakan of Burma after 2 WW. Those who called Thai Muslims are invaded from Malaysia, Bangaladesh, Pakistan and other Muslim countries for Muslinization at there. Actually Thai governments are seeing Money only not future of country and tradition. We think accept to be Terrorist Doctrain fight them back is better. Everybody know who are destroying the peace of world. If the world is filled with Terrorist, world will be end soon. Because 4 wife system make the world out of food, green, water, clean, trees, and then filled with war.

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