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Thai national police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang has proposed setting up official camps to shelter Rohingya migrants in a bid to regulate the influx of migrants and to deal decisively with human trafficking.
His proposal comes amid the massive crackdown on trafficking networks in Thailand’s Songkhla and Satun. Hundreds of trafficked migrants have been discovered by authorities.
As of Monday, a total of 250 migrants had been rescued in jungles along the Khao Kaew mountain range in Sadao, Hat Yai and Rattaphum districts of Songkhla. A large number of smuggled Rohingya are also being held at detention centres under the authority of the immigration police.
According to Pol-Gen Somyot, the Thai government’s efforts to repatriate Rohingya migrants are currently failing.
As a result, fresh measures are necessary to address the issue he describes as a national problem.
Pol-Gen Somyot said the proposed shelters will allow the government to handle the problem in a systematic manner. However, he admitted the idea might attract more Rohingya migrants to Thailand.
The national police chief’s move has been welcomed by human rights defenders but the government and national security authorities have distanced themselves from it.
Human rights lawyer Surapong Kongchantuk, from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said the proposed shelters would be the first step by the government to tackle the Rohingya migrant problem in a systematic manner.
If refugee camps are set up, these migrants will be documented and provided with proper assistance, he said. Some of them are victims of human trafficking and they may want to be repatriated, while some are asylum seekers who may require assistance from international aid organisations.
However, Mr Surapong noted that the proposed shelters should be temporary and should not be run as “refugee camps” which would lead to more complications.
Thai National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general, Anusit Khunakorn, said the migration problem is a delicate issue and the government has to find a balance between national security and humanitarian assistance. The migration of foreign nationals is already a pressing issue for Thai authorities and setting up shelters may trigger waves of migrants which will have adverse effects on several aspects including national security, he said.
Mr Anusit insisted the Rohingya migration problem is not the burden of one country, but the international community’s responsibility.
Deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the issue concerns national security and humanitarian reasons and it needs to be considered thoroughly. The country has several refugee shelters and detention centres and they are overcrowded.
He also stressed that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has started to address the Rohingya migrant problem by seeking support and cooperation from the international community.
Meanwhile, police on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of the 50th suspect in the Rohingya trafficking case in the lower south of Thailand. The suspect, identified as Patchuban ‘Ko Tong’ Angchotipan, former chairman of Satun provincial administration organisation, has close ties with Thailand’s Muang Padang Besar mayor Banjong Pongpol who surrendered to police to face suspected human trafficking charges last week.
Satun police and officials from the Anti-Money Laundering Office searched Mr Patchuban’s home in Muang district and more than a dozen locations linked to him amid rumours that he has fled the country to Langkawi, Malaysia.
In a related development, deputy national police chief of Thailand Pol-Gen Ake Angsananont has recommended the transfer of more than 10 policemen mainly in Satun and Songkhla to inactive posts. On Sunday, Pol-Gen Somyot signed a transfer order for 14 police officers.
Pol Gen Ake said Suwan ‘Ko Nui’ Saenthong, one of the suspects in a trafficking network in Ranong, surrendered to police to face trafficking charges.
Of the 50 suspects, 17 are in police custody and 33 remain at large.
This article originally appeared in The Bangkok Post on 12 May 2015.