BANGKOK — More than 200 members of the Rohingya minority fleeing Burma have been detained in southern Thailand after their boat ran aground, a Thai official said Thursday.
Thai district chief Watcharasak Chulayanon said the 219 men aboard swam ashore after their boat became stuck Wednesday off the coast of Satun province.
The men told Thai authorities they left Burma in late August wanting to go to Malaysia but rough seas put them off course.
Muslim Rohingyas face discrimination in Buddhist Burma, where sectarian violence over the past year left hundreds killed and more than 100,000 displaced from their homes. Even before the unrest, many sought asylum and work in other countries, especially Malaysia, which has a Muslim majority.
Thailand has already detained more than 1,700 Rohingya who arrived earlier this year. Watcharasak said the new arrivals had been moved from a temporary shelter but refused to give their current location.
“Thailand is giving assistance to them but what we want to focus on is that we want the international community to support us in seeking a solution to the root cause,” Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said.
“We know that Myanmar is seriously trying to solve the problem, which is sectarian violence. Once the root cause is solved, the number of people trying to leave the country will decline, leaving only migration for economic reasons,” he said.
Thailand’s treatment of the Rohingya has been criticized by some human rights groups, and there are allegations that Thai officials have been involved in trafficking some of those who landed in Thai territory. They have been housed in crowded conditions, sometimes in local jails, and have made repeated escape attempts.
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has called on the Thai government to release the asylum seekers and provide them protection, saying they were living “under inhumane and unsafe conditions.”
“The Thai government needs to end the inhumane detention of Rohingya and ensure the United Nations refugee agency and other international organizations have full access to provide much-needed protection and assistance,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said.
Thailand’s government initially said the Rohingya asylum seekers could stay for six months, but extended the deadline indefinitely. Human rights activists have called for authorities not to send the Rohingya back to Burma.