Thai captain of shipwrecked refugee boat charged with smuggling

14 June 2019
Thai captain of shipwrecked refugee boat charged with smuggling
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 boat, which was carrying a group of Rohingya Muslims, at the Tarutao Marine National Park on Rawi island, southern Thailand. Photo:  Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP)/AFP

A Thai boat captain has been charged with smuggling 65 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, police said Thursday, after their vessel was shipwrecked off Thailand's southern coast.

The same area was the hub of multi-million-dollar trafficking route, which unravelled in 2015 after the discovery of mass graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants along the border with Malaysia.

Police said the boat, which was carrying the stateless Rohingya minority and was found on Tuesday on an island off the coast of Satun province, was captained by Sangkhom Paphan, a Thai from nearby Ranong province.

Police said he was hired to transport the Rohingya to Malaysia and has been "charged with smuggling in illegal immigrants", according to police general Suchart Theerasawat of the National Police Office.

"He was paid 100,000 baht (about US$3,200) by a Myanmar man," Suchart told AFP, adding that authorities were still interrogating him.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha has instructed agencies "to speed up" investigation on whether the Rohingya found were refugees or illegal labourers, said government spokesman Werachon Sukhondhapatipak.

The 65 people, including women and children, are currently being detained in a police camp in Satun province.

The Rohingya minority are denied citizenship in Myanmar and face severe restrictions on movement as well as a lack of access to work, healthcare and schools.

It was not immediately clear if the 65 Rohingya discovered were coming from Myanmar or Bangladesh, where more than a million of the minority languish in refugee camps.

In November, three vessels carrying nearly 100 Rohingya en route to Malaysia were seized by Myanmar authorities, forcing them back to Sittwe.