BANGKOK (AlertNet) – The Thai government has granted the U.N. refugee agency access to some 800 stateless Rohingya Muslims detained in anti-trafficking raids in southern Thailand.
“They agreed we can meet these people, but there is no specific date yet. We are pushing for as soon as possible,” UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan told AlertNet on Wednesday.
Thai authorities had detained 790 Rohingya over the past week, including 160 children and 30 women. Rights groups are concerned that they will be deported to Myanmar, where they are deprived of free movement, education and employment, and suffer some of the worst discrimination in the world.
Some 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State under severe government restrictions. Longstanding tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya turned violent in early June and again in October, killing at least 160 people and displacing more than 110,000 – mostly Muslims.
It is unclear if the detainees are from Myanmar or Bangladesh – both countries home to Rohingya - or if they are migrant workers or asylum seekers, Tan said, adding, “We want to find out who these people are and what their needs are.”
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters that the government would “take care” of the detainees and discuss a plan of action with UNHCR, the Bangkok Post reported Wednesday.
“The prime minister said they will not be sent back. They will be allowed to stay here for the moment,” Tan said. “For us, it’s a very positive gesture.”