Thai authorities have launched an investigation into how 65 Rohingya Muslims came to be stranded on an island in the Andaman Sea in the south of the country, officials said Wednesday.
A boat was found on Koh Rawi in Tarutao National Park, Satun province, on Tuesday along with 71 people, including 65 members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, Police Lieutenant-General Nawee Hemman, the director of Koh Lipe municipal police station, told EFE.
“We are now in the process of investigating whether they are illegal and during the investigation we continue to detain them,” Nawee said.
A representative of Tarutao National Park, who wished to remain anonymous, said there were also five Myanmar crew members and one Thai captain found.
Of the Rohingyas, 31 are women, 29 are men and five are children.
It is not known if the group came from 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.
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.
“If their boat wasn’t damaged, Thai officials would have likely pushed them out to sea. Now the fate of these 65 Rohingya refugees is uncertain,” he added on Twitter.
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 a 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.