Thailand: The Special Problem


February 2, 2013: The government is refusing international pressure to accept Rohingya refugees from Burma. The government recently ordered Rohingya to be blocked from entering the country. Previously, over the last few years, Thailand was more receptive of these Burmese Moslem refugees. Then there was another outbreak of violence between Rohingya and Burmese in Burma last June, causing many more Rohingya to flee. Some 13,000 Rohingya fled Burma last year, up from 7,000 in 2011. Thailand is a favorite destination for refugees because of the booming economy. The Thais know this and deport any economic refugees they catch. While the business community likes the illegals for their willingness to work harder for less pay, most Thais oppose illegals for the same reason.

The Rohingya have long been a special problem in both Burma and Thailand. The Burmese do not recognize the Rohingya as Burmese. In part this was because the Rohingya lived on the Burmese/Bangladesh border and were considered invaders from Bangladesh and partly because the Burmese are largely Buddhist and have had problems with Moslems (who tend to be a lot more intolerant and aggressive when it comes to religion). Moreover, while most Burmese have an East Asian appearance, the Rohingya look like Indians. Criminal gangs in the area are selling places on boats that attempt to sneak into Thai waters, where the Rohingya could claim asylum. But in the last few months Thailand has arrested over 3,000 Rohingya refugees and confined them in guarded camps until the refugees agree to go back to Burma.

For the last three decades, several hundred thousand Rohingya (out of a total population of about a million) have been fleeing into Bangladesh, but Bangladesh wouldn't take them and has forced many of them back into Burma. In the last decade many more Rohingya have been trying to get into Thailand, and then overland to Moslem Malaysia or Indonesia. Until recently over five thousand a year tried to flee. Given the years of Moslem terrorism in Thailand's south, the army does not want thousands of Burmese Moslems wandering the length of the country trying to reach Malaysia. Just sending them to Malaysia would not work, since neither Malaysia nor Indonesia (nor any Moslem country, for that matter) was willing to take the Rohingya unless the refugees got there on their own. There are over 150,000 refugees from Myanmar (Burma) in Thailand, nearly all of them from tribes that have been fighting the Burmese government for centuries. In addition, there are almost a million internal refugees in Burma, the result of fighting between the army and various rebellious tribes. There are about a quarter million Rohingya refugees. Most of them are in Bangladesh and the rest are in Thailand, where they are considered economic migrants and thus illegal.

The government also has a persistent refugee problem in the three southern Moslem provinces. Nine years of Islamic terrorism have caused 30 percent of the Buddhists (who used to be 20 percent of the population) and ten percent of the Moslems to flee the area. Most of the 5,000 people killed by the terrorism in the last nine years have been Moslems, as the terrorists use force to encourage the civilian population to support them (or at least not cooperate with the government). Rohingya refugees are welcome in the south, mainly because they are Moslem, and despite the fact that they look different and speak a very different language (Bengali languages are Indo-European while Malay languages are related to those spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, and throughout the Pacific (Polynesian)). The government is not allowing Rohingya to settle in the south. There are several hundred thousand legal and illegal Burmese working in Thailand and few are Moslem (most are Buddhist or Christian and many are tribals). The government does not go out of its way to hunt down and deport these illegals because they are willing to work for less and are popular with the business community.

January 29, 2013: The Thai Navy blocked boats carrying 200 Rohingya refugees from Burma and would not let them land in Thailand.

January 28, 2013: The government ordered the security forces to turn back Rohingya refugees trying to enter the country. In part this was because some members of the army were found to be extorting cash from Rohingya refugees in order to let them in. There have been cultural and religious problems with Rohingya refugees in Thailand. Those Rohingya who do make it to Thailand will be arrested and imprisoned in special camps.

January 23, 2013: In the south four Islamic terrorists entered a school compound and killed a Moslem teacher.  

January 14, 2013: In the last week police have found over 500 Rohingya refugees in secret camps near the Malaysian border. Malaysia will accept Rohingya refugees, Thailand will not. Thailand does not just ship Rohingya off to Malaysia because the government does not want to encourage Rohingya to enter Thailand.  

January 10, 2013: Two soldiers were killed in the south by a roadside bomb.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close