Activists Urge Inquiry After Rohingya Shot in Thai Detention Center Breakout

By Alisa.Tang 25 May 2016

BANGKOK — Rights groups called on Tuesday for an independent investigation into the fatal shooting of a Rohingya Muslim from Burma who was involved in a dramatic mass breakout from a detention center in southern Thailand.

Twenty-one Rohingya men escaped from the Phang Nga Immigration Detention Center in the early hours of Monday after sawing through an iron bar in their communal cell.

One was shot dead and three caught after they kicked, pushed and threw stones at police and immigration officers who chased them up a nearby mountain, police said.

Eleven more Rohingya were arrested on Tuesday and will be charged with fleeing detention, police said. Another four are still missing.

Police are investigating the shooting but several rights groups called for an independent inquiry.

“The police need to demonstrate that a legitimate cause existed to justify the use of lethal force against a group of refugees,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights based in Southeast Asia.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled poverty and persecution in western Burma since sectarian violence erupted there in 2012.

Many have been arrested by Thai authorities or ended up in human trafficking camps in the jungles of southern Thailand as they tried to reach Malaysia.

Most Rohingya are stateless and unrecognized by the two countries they call home—Bangladesh and Burma.

This complicates repatriation and can lead to lengthy spells in overcrowded Thai detention centers, which Rohingya often try to escape.

Rights groups urged Thailand to end the indefinite detention of refugees and human trafficking survivors—some of whom have been in detention for two years—and warned there would be further breakouts.

“This will happen a second time, a third time,” said Siwawong Suktawee of the Migrant Working Group Thailand, a network of non-profits advocating for migrants and refugees.

“During Ramadan, which begins in June, that is when families normally get together, and I think the pressure of their detention may cause the situation to explode again,” he said.

The Migrant Working Group Thailand said more than 400 Rohingya were held in Thai detention centers.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it would work with the Thai authorities to find alternatives to detention.

“It’s deeply tragic that a refugee life should have been lost. This incident underscores UNHCR’s serious concerns on a worldwide basis over the use of detention for dealing with people forced to flee war or persecution,” UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan said by email.

Col. Chote Chidchai, deputy chief of police in Phang Nga province, said the officer who fired the shots was under investigation.

“It was an intentional shooting, but he was doing his job. Right now we’re in the process of investigating,” he added.