Thai military troops allegedly opened fire on Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during a botched boat transfer, killing at least two. Villagers say as many as 15 people may have died.
According to reports, Thai fishermen intercepted the refugee boat when it ran out of fuel on its journey from Myanmar on February 21 and brought food and water for the 110 Rohingya Muslims aboard. The military arrived later that day and towed the Rohingya vessel close to shore on the Surin island, north of Phuket.
The shooting occurred the next morning when the military decided to transfer 20 of the Rohingyas to a smaller vessel.
When some of the refugees feared they would be separated from their family, they jumped in the water and the military opened fire, witnesses said.
“There was a shot fired into the air when we decided not to move,” one Rohingya, Refrik, said. “And so we jumped. That’s when they opened fire on us, in the water.”
Two bodies were pulled from the water and buried, with fishermen claiming they had seen as many as 15 bodies in the water. Four survivors were hidden by villagers, fearing that the military would search for them, Phuket Wan reports.
The fate of the more than 100 Rohingya after they were towed away by the military vessel is not known.
The latest incident reflects the struggles of the ethnic Rohingya Muslims as they escape from sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Thai authorities are obligated to help Rohingya refugee boats on their journey by supplying them with food, water and fuel and to tow them out to sea again, according to Asian Correspondent. But reports of abuse and involvement in human trafficking by Thai authorities emerged, raising concerns for the refugees.
Over 13,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2012 and another 3,000 left in the first two months of 2013, according to statistics from the United Nation’s refugee agency.