Thai media coverage of the Rohingya refugee issue

It’s interesting to note that the Rohingya boat people story is receiving scant coverage in the Thai media. This despite many stories in the international press that have drawn attention to the accusations over the last week. And yesterday, a CNN investigative report (which I mentioned here) showed new images that seem to confirm that hundreds of Rohingya people were abused and then towed out to sea with little food or water and cut adrift.

But Bangkok’s two English language newspapers are running very little material on the situation. The op-ed section of today’s Bangkok Post, for example, contains the following:

  • The Post‘s editorial about Thai Airways’ financial troubles.
  • A Bloomberg column about the media in South Korea.
  • A guest column about what 2009 might hold in store for Myanmar (Burma) — although the subject is domestic politics, not the plight of Rohingya refugees. (This is not a criticism of the column; the Rohingya issue didn’t fit the scope of the piece.)
  • A Post column about the level of customer service offered by Thai retailers.

Today’s op-ed section in the Post does, however, contain this Reuters column, which is about PM Abhisit’s connection to the Thai military. (The column doesn’t appear on the Bangkok Post Web site, but it’s available via the Reuters link above.)

The following passage helps illustrate the issue of media coverage — or lack thereof — of the Burmese refugee story here in Thailand:

In the short-term, political fallout for Abhisit is likely to be limited, with much of the domestic media portraying the incident as legitimate defence of the borders against potential “Muslim terrorists” in the insurgency-plagued far south.

Similarly, defending foreign Muslims has never gone down well with Thailand’s nationalist and overwhelmingly Buddhist voters, and Abhisit’s star is riding high after the turbulence of 2008, with some commentators even comparing him to Barack Obama.

Yet the episode, and his knee-jerk shielding of the army, has echoes in Thailand’s recent history and makes him look ominously like his nemesis Thaksin, condemned as a serial rights abuser during much of his time in office.

After 80 Muslim demonstrators suffocated to death in the back of army trucks in the southern village of Tak Bai in 2004, Thaksin refused to reprimand the army, and even suggested the men died due to weakness caused by Ramadan fasting.

At the time, analysts explained his comments as an attempt to appease generals even then showing signs of the dissent that would lead to a coup two years later.

In Abhisit’s case, it looks to many analysts more like repaying a favour.

Meanwhile, over at the Nation newspaper, the site doesn’t appear to be running a single story about the Rohingya issue.

And finally, if you haven’t seen the CNN video from Dan Rivers, it’s worth a look. You can watch it here.


Burmese boat people abuse accusations: update

Today’s CSM has an informative update (and illustrative infographic) on the accusations that the Thai navy forced Muslim Burmese boat people back to sea in rickety boats with little food or water.

CSM: “Thailand accused of mistreating Muslim refugees

Other stories:

  • AP: “Thai PM pledges to work with UN refugee agency
  • Economist: “Thailand’s Burmese boat people: Cast adrift
  • VOA: “Thailand Denies UN Access to Burmese Boat People

Thai navy accused of forcing boat people back to sea

The big story in Thailand at the moment involves accusations that the Thai navy intercepted hundreds of boat people and forced them back out to sea with little food or water. The refugees were Rohingya — Muslims from Western Myanmar (Burma).

Here’s a recent AFP story: “Thailand accused of returning asylum-seekers to sea to die

PORT BLAIR, India (AFP) — India said Sunday that hundreds of people were missing at sea, believed to be part of a wave of boat people allegedly dragged out to the middle of the ocean by Thailand and left to die.

Thailand has denied the accusations, but accounts of survivors and the latest reports from the Indian coast guard have piled the pressure on Bangkok, and the Thai government said it would meet rights groups on Monday.

The Thai navy is accused of detaining the migrants, from a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar, after they washed up on the Thai coast — and then towing them to sea and leaving them to their fate.

India’s coast guard said Sunday it had rescued hundreds of the refugees from the Rohingya ethnic group, who live along the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh, but that hundreds more were feared lost.

The BBC has more on the story, which it seems was broken in the Western press by the New York Times on Jan. 17. And the story received a lot of coverage in yesterday’s Bangkok Post. The print edition of today’s Post has a story saying that Thai PM Abhisit will meet today with human rights groups, but I don’t see the story on their site. There’s also a Nation story, but it’s difficult to follow. Bangkok Pundit has more info.

And, finally, here’s some background info on the Rohingya people.