Muang Lwin claims only 10% are from Myanmar
Thailand has urged Myanmar to speed up the nationality verification process for Rohingya migrants who are detained here as the six-month time frame has passed.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said he raised the issue in talks with his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Muang Lwin at the Foreign Ministry at a ceremony celebrating the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries on Wednesday.
There are about 2,000 Rohingya migrants in Thailand, 1,700 of whom are being held by the government. The other 300 have escaped from two state-run shelters.
The government had set a time frame in January to accommodate the Rohingya migrants for six months. The period ended in June.
Muang Lwin told Mr Surapong Myanmar officials had found that only 10% of the Rohingya migrants detained in the two Thai shelters were from Myanmar.
The others were believed to be Bangladeshis, he said, noting that they were unable to speak the Burmese language or identify where in Myanmar they had come from.
Mr Surapong said he would cooperate with Bangladesh, Myanmar and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in deciding whether to deport them or send them to a third country because the migrants have lived here for several months.
He agreed with a plan by the Human Security and Social Development Ministry to transfer responsibility for the migrants to the Interior Ministry as the Immigration Office lacked space to accommodate them.
"After the nationality verification process is completed, the Foreign Ministry will invite representatives from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to discuss whether they can help Thailand handle this issue," Mr Surapong said.
"We will also talk with Myanmar and Bangladesh about taking the migrants back," he said.
A Foreign Ministry source said the government is likely to extend the period for sheltering the migrants by another six months.
The Myanmar government is in the process of screening all Rohingya who came from Rakhine state in Myanmar after repeated requests by Thailand.
The same source said the Myanmar government does not intend to take the migrants back.
Myanmar agreed to the nationality identification process because it wanted to show goodwill to Thailand after the government here helped Myanmar negotiate with the US and EU over the lifting of sanctions, the source said.
"Since the mass influx of these migrants into Thailand last January, no country has offered any help to the government regarding the problem," the source said.
Myanmar has also asked Thailand to waive visas so its citizens can travel freely into Thailand, similar to the arrangement Thailand has with other Asean countries, Mr Surapong said.
However, he said Thailand would focus on the illegal immigrant problem before making changes to the visa situation.
The government will consider extending Myanmar labourers' stay in Thailand, open more checkpoints along the border and set up a temporary Thai embassy office in Nay Pyi Taw to help Myanmar people visit the kingdom.
Mr Surapong also said Thailand has provided 3.1 million baht in financial assistance to Myanmar to help the victims of flooding in Myawaddy.
This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post on August 16, 2013.