Thai police say have detained 200 'Turkish refugees'
By Arnaud Dubus, Thursday, March 13, 2014
BANGKOK - Thai immigration police said Thursday that they had detained around 200 people claiming to be “Turkish refugees” who had been found in a “secret camp” in Thailand's south.
Local newspaper, the Bangkok Post reported that the Turkish Embassy in the Kingdom had said that it was not aware of the case.
“It is an unprecedented case that there are so many Turkish people arrested here,” Police General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, a commander at the country's Immigration Bureau for the south, told the newspaper. He said the "refugees" had identified themselves as Turkish and were arrested after a raid on a camp in a rubber plantation on Wednesday night in Songkhla province.
The people were reported to be living in two rubber plantations.
“They came as families and look like they wanted to go somewhere else because they kept their belongings ready to move," he added.
There are no known previous cases of large numbers of Turkish illegal migrants arrested in Thailand. However, Thailand has detained more than 500Rohingya refugees during raids on a suspected people-trafficking camp in the deep south, a predominantly Muslim region which has been plagued by a long-running insurgency.
Turkey has displayed intense efforts to address the problems of Rohingya Muslims, both through visits by high-level officials and through joint initiatives with international organizations such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Songkhla Governor Grisada Boonrach told The Anadolu Agency: "Judging from their attire, it appeared that these people are Muslims. But their origin has yet to be established."
Police told the Thai daily that they were waiting for an interpreter so they could question the detainees, who have not yet been charged with any crime.
A senior interior ministry official told The Anadolu Agency Thursday that he didn't think that the "refugees" were Rohingya.
"Their complexion is too light,” he said. "Judging from their features... they could be coming from Central Asia."
The official who did not wish to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media said he had no idea why police said they were Turkish when no one has established that fact.
"We tried to communicate with them in English and Thai and they don't seem to understand any of these languages."
He said that there were 123 males in the group, 45 females and 52 people under the age of 18.
"Authorities have relocated all of them to the Immigration Detention Centre near the Hat Yai International Airport," said Governor Boonrach.
Rohingya are Muslims who live predominantly in Rakhine state, a region of western Myanmar destabilized by frequent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.
Since June 2012, the United Nations has said that outbursts of violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya have caused 280 deaths and displaced 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, who are now living in squalid conditions in camps.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled Western Myanmar on boats to go to Malaysia via southern Thailand.
Over the last two years, there have been frequent discoveries by Thai authorities of large numbers of Rohingya kept in camps in southern Thailand by human traffickers, sometimes with the complicity of Thai military or police.
In January, Thailand detained more than 500 Rohingya refugees after a raid on such a camp in the south. Maung Kyaw Nu of the Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand told AA on Thursday evening that he had heard about the case and had been told that the people were Kurds, suspected to be from Syria.
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