BANGKOK: Thai officials said they discovered 65 ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugees on Tuesday who were shipwrecked and stranded in southern Thailand.
The passengers — 28 men, 31 women and five children — were stranded on Rawi island in Tarutao National Park in Thailand’s southern Satun province after the boat suffered engine trouble, a park official said.
The chief of Tarutao National Marine Park, Kanjanapan Kamhaeng, said the boat carrying the Rohingya was found after several Thai and Myanmar citizens told park officials their ship had broken down. They initially denied they were transporting Rohingya.
Kanjanapan said the boat was found smashed onto a rocky shore and a preliminary check showed it was carrying 65 Rohingya and several Thai and Myanmar citizens who were identified by the Rohingya as in charge of operating the ship.
Kanjanapan said the Thai navy took the group away to be processed by immigration officials.
Navy officer Cmdr. Thanapong Sudrak said authorities will investigate whether the incident involved human trafficking.
Rohingya originate in Rakhine state in Myanmar, where they face extreme persecution by authorities and majority Buddhists, prompting their flight over the years, many on rickety boats that were sometimes pushed back into the open sea by countries such as Thailand.
Attacks by Myanmar’s army in 2017 caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to overcrowded refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh and elsewhere for safety.Scores of Rohingya Muslims have boarded boats in recent months to try to reach Malaysia, part of what authorities fear could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea after a 2015 crackdown on trafficking.
A Satun government official said the passengers would be transferred to the mainland.
“Everyone will be investigated in order to see whether they are victims of trafficking or illegal immigrants,” said the official.Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps in Rakhine since violence swept the area in 2012.
The unrest prompted tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee Myanmar by sea. The exodus peaked in 2015, when an estimated 25,000 people crossed the Andaman Sea for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats.