65 refugees found shipwrecked in Thailand

13 June 2019
65 refugees found shipwrecked in Thailand
This handout picture taken on June 11, 2019 and released by Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) on June 12 shows a group of Rohingya Muslims sitting on the sand at the Tarutao Marine National Park on Rawi island, southern Thailand. Photo: Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP)/AFP

A group of 65 Rohingya Muslims have been found on a shipwrecked boat off the coast of southern Thailand, Navy officials said Wednesday as authorities investigated whether they had been trafficked.

The boat was discovered early Tuesday in the Tarutao Marine National Park in southern Thailand, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the border of Myanmar.

Some 740,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown in 2017.

Most have escaped into overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, while others have fallen prey to human trafficking rings as they seek better lives in Malaysia or Thailand.

A Thai Navy spokesman said there were 31 women and five children among the Rohingya on the shipwrecked boat.

One Thai man and five Burmese citizens were also in the group. The men said they were fishing in the area and had no link to the Rohingyas.

The six men "were detained for questioning because of their suspicious behaviour," Thai Navy spokesman, vice admiral Khan Deeubol, said Wednesday.

A provincial official said the group was initially investigated for illegal entry but the probe had broadened.

"Authorities are not ruling out other issues such as human trafficking," an Internal Security Command (ISOC) source in Satun province told AFP.

Photos from the Thai Navy showed the group on a beach, some eating rice near the marooned ship.

Bangladeshi authorities have intercepted several suspected traffickers seeking to transport refugees from squalid camps in Cox's Bazaar, where nearly one million Rohingyas are living -- almost all refusing to go back to Myanmar out of fear for their safety and rights.

Myanmar has said the 2017 crackdown was aimed at rooting out terrorists who attacked military posts.

It has signed a repatriation agreement with Bangladesh to return Rohingya refugees, but so far virtually none have volunteered to go back.