October 21, 2017
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Rohingya boat lands in Thailand as monsoon rages

More than 200 Muslim Rohingya boat people have landed in southern Thailand, authorities said Thursday, a possible sign that vessels from Myanmar are risking the journey before
the end of the monsoon season.

The group, believed to be fleeing sectarian violence in unrest-torn Rakhine State, western Myanmar, landed on a remote beach during a storm in southern Satun province on Wednesday, an official said.

"We gave them water, food and fixed their boat," the official from the local Internal Security Operation Command, who did not want to be named, told AFP, adding the group then returned to the boat and set sail.

"We want them to go away out of the country... They do not want to stay here and authorities here do not want to take them", he said, adding the Rohingya normally want to head on to neighbouring Muslim countries.

While he did not mention any countries by name, the Rohingya generally prefer to aim for Malaysia or Indonesia.

Thousands of Muslim Rohingya boat people -- including women and children -- have fled the former junta-ruled country since Buddhist-Muslim clashes a year ago in Rakhine.

But most make the perilous journey after the monsoon has waned in October when high seas calm.

A local village official confirmed late Wednesday that the group had made land in Satun province, after a 15-day voyage through rough seas.

"They are all men -- aged between 15 and 45-years-old... they looked skinny, they had no energy -- some could not even walk," Somnuk Khunsuek told AFP, adding they wanted to reach Malaysia.

Thailand has faced criticism from rights groups for detaining hundreds of Rohingya boat people in overcrowded and insanitary facilities while it waits for a "third country" to offer to take them.

But overseas help has not been forthcoming so far, leaving the refugees in limbo, and separated from their families.

The kingdom initially said the asylum-seekers would be allowed to stay for six months while the government worked with the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, to try to find other countries willing to accept them.

It has extended the deadline to early next year, but rights groups say the Rohingya remain vulnerable to exploitation while they do not have full legal status in the kingdom.

In January Thai authorities opened an investigation into allegations that army officials were involved in trafficking Rohingya.

A spokeswoman for the UN's refugee arm said boat people should never be "pushed on", adding those fleeing unrest "must be able to access asylum where they arrive".

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