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Sea gypsies mass in Phuket to voice threats to traditional way of life

PHUKET: About 1,000 sea gypsies from along the Andaman Coast gathered at Phuket’s Rawai Beach yesterday (Nov 20) to air their grievances about the slew of problems the once-sea-faring nomads face in modern Thailand today.

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By The Phuket News

Monday 21 November 2016, 06:26PM


Chief of the sea gypsies’ concerns is forced relocation through court-ordered evictions to uphold claims to land that the indigenous people had long lived on uncontested, explained Sangsom Harnthalay, who heads the sea gypsy community on the popular tourist island of Koh Lipe to the south in Satun.

“This issue affects up to 12,000 people of many different types of sea gypsies, including the three main tribes: Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi,” he said.

The Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi are found from as far north as the Similan Islands off Phang Nga, to Koh Siray and Rawai in Phuket, on Phi Phi Island and Koh Lanta Island in Krabi, and Koh Lipe in Satun.

“There are more than 100 cases in which sea gypsies are being sued, including those in Rawai,” he said.

“Twenty-one locations are being disputed, even though sea gypsies graves have been found in those areas, while two locations disputed involve homes that have already been registered with government,” Mr Sangsom said.

Niran Panyang, representing sea gypsies in Rawai, pointed out that the forced evictions threatened sea gypsies’ traditional way of life.

“The tourism industry is greatly affecting sea gypsies’ traditional lifestyle, too,” he added.

Phuket Vice Governor Snith Sriwihok was at the event, but said that he was present only so that he could report results from the proceedings to Phuket Governor Chockchai Dejamornthan today (Nov 21).

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“This is a very complicated issue, and many of the issues raised are to be passed on to the Ministry of Culture for consideration,” he told The Phuket News today.

V/Gov Snith declined to present his personal opinion on the issues sea gypsies are facing in modern-day Thailand.

“I can’t give my own opinion about them. It is a sensitive issue, but I am ready to take action. My job is to help people,” he said.

Also present at the mass gathering at Rawai yesterday was Gen Surin Pikulthong, who heads the national-level committee expressly set up by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha two years ago to resolve sea gypsy issues along the Andaman coast. He also is a former president of the Community Organisations Development Institute (CODI).

“The Ministry of Culture should protect and preserve sea gypsies’ culture in Phuket, where they have married, made their living and practised their beliefs for more than a century,” he said.

Gen Surin recognised that the problems sea gypsies faced were long-standing and remained unresolved through several terms of Phuket Governors in office.

“And now it is up to the current Governor to figure out,” he said.

Gen Surin has come under increasing pressure to resolve the issues affecting sea gypsies, with activists calling for PM Prayut to sack the general for his ineffectiveness during a protest when PM Prayut visited Phuket on Sept 16. (See story here.)

 

 

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Kurt | 23 November 2016 - 15:59:44

Yes Ed Sanders, I understand you last writing.
Historical it was gypsies land, from a period that there were no (corrupt) Land Offices.
These Land offices came later and sold gypsies decades settlement land over their heads to Influential people.
That fact is bothering me.
However, thai government Phuket health departments failed enormous to look after the sea gypsies and the thai/Burmese ghet...

Ed Sanders | 23 November 2016 - 11:47:56

Some valid points Kurt...but still see more "entitlement" thinking ("I've been living here for free for a long time, so I should get to keep it") than cultural preservation.  And the great King may have visited them long ago... but he also landed in Surin...and look what they've done to that place!  Lastly, I wouldn't want to live near the sea gypsies any more than ...

Kurt | 23 November 2016 - 09:39:37

Yes Ed Sanders, There you have some points.
However it is the thai government who denies decades water and electricity supplies, not do enough rubbish collection, etc.
Yes, of course it is the high value of that coastal land what influential greedy thai wish to lay their hands on, by left way or by right way.
We red that the gypsies were visited at their living location by His Majesty late King...

Ed Sanders | 22 November 2016 - 20:52:49

Yes Kurt... no disputing that these people are Thai citizens...but that does not entitle them to squat on high value coastal property without ever doing anything to better or improve the land or their conditions.  They live in squalor and are an eyesore and environmental detriment.  Again...this is not some ancient tribe with a rich history... they are squatters, and like many Thais, feel entitled...

Kurt | 22 November 2016 - 14:50:04

More than 12,000 sea gipsies, with many graves of their ancestors for more than 60-100 years!
And than still being sued? Unbelievable.
I find the comment of the Vice Governor below any level.

Not exactly a vice governor who stand for his job, caring of all people living on Phuket.
Just a vice governor who ducks and character wise not able to carry job responsibilities.
People of Phuket not ...

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