53 Rohingya "boat people" have been detained in isolated Thai prisons since 2009. Their crime? Fleeing brutal persecution in their homeland of Burma. In late January, Thailand nabbed another 158 Rohingya who had survived a harrowing journey on ramshackle home-made boats. Thai officials threw them directly into prison.
Despite the known mistreatment of Rohingya in Burma, the Thai government is refusing to recognize the migrants as refugees. Worse, they are blocking the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from visiting the detained Rohingya, thus sequestering them from any legal defense or opportunity for protection.
Under international law, any migrant who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution must be granted refugee or asylum status, which offers ongoing protection in a new land. Burma's oppressive military regime has repeatedly cleansed its country of ethnic groups like the Rohingya--so the detainees' eligibility for refugee status is, in all likelihood, a no brainer.
Tell Thailand it needs to measure up to the basic principles of human rights when it comes to immigration and refugee protection. For starters, Thailand should give the United Nations access to the detained migrants. What are they so afraid of?
As you are well aware, the Rohingya (along with other ethnic minorities in Burma) are severely persecuted by the Burmese military junta. It is well documented that many Rohingya have been systematically driven out from their homelands because of their ethnic identity and desire for political independence. (This is of course also true for the Karen and Karenni, who currently take refuge by the thousands in Thai camps).
Despite this documentation, your government insists that the Rohingya are nothing more than illegal migrants, and refuse to offer them an opportunity to plead their case for protection. Moreover, you are blocking the international community from providing relief and protection to your prisoners, which in and of itself is criminal.
Thailand is gaining a reputation for rampant human rights abuses against immigrants. I, along with many others in the international community committed to human rights, urge you to grant the UN immediate access to the unjustly imprisoned Rohingya. It will be a first step in ending the abusive regime of immigrant abuse in Thailand.