BANGKOK – Five Myanmar boat crew-members and the Thai captain of the vessel found stranded on a southern Thai island with 65 Rohingya Muslims have been charged with people smuggling, police said Friday.
“For now, the Thai captain and the other five Burmese have been charged with illegally smuggling in the immigrants,” Police Major General Supawat Thapkliew, the head of police in southern Satun province, told EFE.
The group was found on Koh Rawi in Tarutao National Park, Satun, on Tuesday. Of the 65 Rohingyas found with the six crew members, 31 are women, 29 are men and five are children.
Thai captain Sangkhom Paphan “confessed partly,” Supawat said.
“He admitted what he could, but we still need to investigate more to see who is actually behind this,” he added, but would not disclose how much Sangkhom was paid or by whom.
Supawat said the boat came from Ranong province – further north along the Myanmar border – and was “heading to another country, but we still cannot say to where exactly.”
The Rohingyas are being provided food and shelter.
“We try to look after them the best we can because they are not wrongdoers,” Supawat said, adding that they will be put into the care of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security when the police process is complete.
On Wednesday, the NGO Fortify Rights called on the Thai authorities to protect the new arrivals.
“Whether these Rohingya came from Myanmar or refugee camps in Bangladesh, they’re refugees and have a right to protection,” Fortify Rights’ Chief Executive Officer Matthew Smith said in a statement.
It is not known if the group came from Myanmar or Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingyas live in the largest refugee camp in the world after a Myanmar army crackdown in Aug. 2017 sent more than 725,000 fleeing from Rakhine state.
There have been many reports of Rohingyas attempting to leave Bangladesh by boat in recent months, presumably in order to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group and refers to them instead as “Bengalis” who immigrated from Bangladesh.
In 2015, boats loaded with thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis bound for Malaysia and Thailand were refused landing by authorities and left to drift in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
Later, Malaysia and Indonesia offered shelter to 7,000 of the refugees and migrants.
In May 2015, dozens of shallow graves and human trafficking camps were found in jungle on the Thai side of the border with Malaysia.
Two years later, in Thailand’s largest trial of its kind, 62 people were convicted in a Bangkok court of human trafficking and a raft of other charges.