Thai officials say they deported 1,300 Rohingya boat people back to Myanmar
In this photo taken Jan.1, 2013, Rohingya refugees sit in a boat as they are intercepted by Thai authorities off the sea in Phuket, southern Thailand. (AP Photo)
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thai authorities said Thursday they deported about 1,300 of Rohingya boat people back to Myanmar late last year, ignoring calls from human rights groups not to send the ethnic minorities home where they face widespread discrimination.
The deportations were announced this week but took place in waves from September through November, said police. Lt. Gen. Pharnu Kerdlarpphon. He said the asylum seekers were held in detention centres and shelters across the country.
The news was first reported Thursday by Thailand's English-language Bangkok Post.
"The deportations were voluntary. We sent them back 100 to 200 people at a time," Pharnu told The Associated Press.
"These people said they could not see any future while being held in Thailand, so they chose to go back to Myanmar."
Muslim Rohingyas face discrimination in Myanmar, where sectarian violence for nearly two years has left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 displaced from their homes. Many sought asylum and work in other countries, especially Malaysia, which has a Muslim majority.
Since last January, more than 1,700 Rohingya were arrested in Thailand after their boats ran aground in the country's south.
Pharnu said eight of the people detained died from diseases, while others fled the shelters or were sent to Bangladesh.
The Rohingyas in immigration detention centres have complained about the poor living conditions in the cells.
Human rights groups have urged Thailand to give Rohingyas access to the United Nations refugee agency so they can seek refugee status and have expressed concerns over their safety if they are sent back to Myanmar.
"Deportation to Myanmar means to send them to a place where they can face danger and persecution, and can be seriously abused," said Bangkok-based Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk.
He said Thai authorities have not been transparent about the deportation process and the number of the detained asylum seekers.