Rear Admiral Tarakorn Kajitsuwan said today, “We have a policy for handling the refugee boat problem. This year we are focusing on the waters off Phang Nga, Ranong and Satul. We are also gathering information about the problem as it relates to Phuket, so that we can make plans for that, too.”
R/Adm Tarakorn added, “We are very serious about patrolling Thai waters to protect the country from refugees and drug smugglers. We discuss the problems with neighbouring countries such as Myanmar at a regional meeting once a year.
“Whenever we find a boat full of refugees we are obliged to arrest them. We get good cooperation from Thai fishing boats who let us know when they see refugee boats.”
Over the past three years, Thailand has seen a steady flow of people, mainly from Myanmar’s repressed Rohingya minority, taking terrible risks in small boats to escape repression and get to Malaysia. Most Rohingya are Muslim and see Malaysia as a potential haven. In this they are mistaken as Malaysia views illegal immigrants as undesirable.
The Thai Navy was severely criticised for its treatment of the passengers on the first few boats it stopped, and has since attempted to treat them in a more humane way. Repatriating them has proved difficult because Myanmar border guards have often refused to let them back into that country.
R/Adm Tarakorn did not clarify precisely how greater cooperation with Myanmar will result in fewer refugee boats.