Bangkok (AFP) – Fifty-nine Rohingyas have been discovered on a Thai island, claiming they were abandoned by traffickers en route to Malaysia, a senior police official said on Sunday.
The group, including five children, were found on Koh Dong Island in the southern province of Satun on Saturday, Lieutenant General Surachet Hakpan said.
Every year, thousands of members of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority, heavily persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, risk their lives on costly months-long journeys to reach Malaysia via Thai seas.
Police said they had been charged with illegal entry and faced deportation to Myanmar following a court case.
“We are providing humanitarian assistance and will investigate whether they are victims of human trafficking or entered illegally,” Surachet said.
The group appeared “starving and likely hadn’t had food for three to five days,” according to a police statement.
The boat’s crew then decided to abandon those on board on Koh Dong Island – telling them they had reached Malaysia, the group told officers.
The incident comes after the bodies of 14 Rohingyas, including children, were discovered washed up on a beach last month after trying to flee Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled a military crackdown in the country in 2017, bringing with them harrowing stories of murder, rape and arson.
Those still in Myanmar are widely seen as trespassers from Bangladesh and are largely denied citizenship, many rights, and access to health care and education.
Muslim-majority Malaysia is a key destination for Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar or refugee camps in Bangladesh.
In 2019, a Thai boat captain was accused of smuggling 65 Rohingya from Myanmar after their ship was wrecked on an island off Satun province.
The same area was the hub of a multimillion-dollar smuggling route, which collapsed in 2015 after mass graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were discovered along the border with Malaysia.
© 2022 AFP