The Navy release explained how Admiral Sittiporn Maskasem, Chief of Naval Operations, had come to Phuket in person to review the action being taken by the Third Area Command.
Of course, the response was that the personnel at the Phuket naval base, which is responsible for all naval action along Thailand entire Andaman coast, was on watch for these potentially dangerous migrants through various means, including its UAV drone and by “working with” officials in Ranong, the province north of Phuket which directly shares its water borders with Myanmar.
What was not included in the press release was any steps to help prevent COVID-19 from being brought onto the island by road, despite Phang Nga, the province immediately north of Phuket, reimposing strict health measures a week ago amid fears that migrant workers from Myanmar being brought into the province illegally by employers.
Now that is much closer to the truth, and those heightened COVID-prevention measures were doled out by Phang Nga Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada, a relatively young Governor who was very well liked during his term as Governor of Phuket only a handful of years ago.
Governor Chamroen knows how the local ‘migrant worker import’ system works so well that he warned all officials and employers they would face legal action for any infected migrant workers found in the respective areas.
Meanwhile, Phuket Provincial Police and provincial government officials have yet to announce any steps to check any persons, including migrant workers, arriving in Phuket by road. If these migrant workers bringing COVID-19 to Phuket were such a genuine concern, our officials forgot to stop and check people at the bridge.
Much, much worse, however, is how the phrase “illegal immigrants from Myanmar” was applied. The release came just four days after nearly 300 more Rohingya made landfall in Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra – just 200km southwest of Phuket.
The 297 refugees comprised 181 men and women, and 14 children. They were reportedly at sea for six months, and made land on Sumatra amid the dangerous southwest monsoon conditions.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a non-profit group focusing on the Rohingya crisis, said the passengers that arrived in Aceh on Monday had set sail from southern Bangladesh at the end of March or early April, bound for Malaysia.
It was also confirmed that the Royal Thai Navy was continuing its “push back” policy of intercepting refugee boats at sea to prevent them from coming ashore in Thailand.
The Royal Thai Navy – and the Thai media – have made no mention of this policy for years. Even after the great fiasco where the Royal Thai Navy was exposed for its active role in preventing refugees from arriving in Thailand, it called the process “helping them on”.
If they think they doing the right thing by this, they can think again. This “helping them on” just further endangers these refugees in poorly maintained boats on dangerous seas, and has led to boat sinkings and drownings further south beyond the Thai Navy’s “area of responsibility”. In July Malaysian authorities said some two dozen Rohingya migrants feared to have drowned off the country’s coast after a treacherous boat crossing had been found alive, hiding in bushes on an island. They were the lucky ones.
For those with short memories, the “push back” policy began years ago with Army Commander Lt Gen Manas Kongpan, who was the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4 Commander at the time.
He has now been sentenced to 82 years in jail for his role in human trafficking following the discovery of diabolical mass graves found at makeshift prisons in the jungle near the Mayalsian boarder in Padang Besar, Songkhla province.
If the Royal Thai Navy wants to issue press releases about the “good work” it is doing in “protecting the people of Thailand”, a little more honesty would be appreciated.