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Rights group: Thais abandoned migrants at sea

Two migrants told a refugees' advocacy group they were detained by Thai authorities on an island and then abandoned in the Indian Ocean in a boat with no engine and only a bag of rice.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two migrants told a refugees' advocacy group they were detained and beaten by Thai authorities on a remote island and then abandoned in the Indian Ocean in a boat with no engine and only a bag of rice.

The Bangkok-based advocacy group Arakan Project provided transcripts of their accounts Friday to The Associated Press. It was the second time the group has provided testimony from Bangladeshi and Rohingya illegal migrants who allege that the Thai navy has twice forced hundreds of them onto to sea since December. About 300 drowned in one of the incidents.

Thai military officials have repeatedly denied they forced migrants out to sea, insisting they only detain and then repatriate them to their respective countries. Those who answered repeated calls to navy offices on Friday said spokesmen were not available for comment.

Survived on bananas, rice
The survivors who spoke to Arakan are jailed on India's remote Andaman islands, where they were taken after an Indian helicopter spotted them on an island.

According to their accounts, they were headed from Bangladesh to Thailand when their boats were intercepted at sea around Dec. 27 by Thai naval ships. They were then detained with hundreds of other migrants for several days on a deserted island off the Andaman coast believed to be Koh Sai Daeng.

The migrants said they survived on banana leaves and handfuls of rice and were abused by armed guards they thought were from the Thai security forces.

"I was beaten with a stick while collecting banana plants for no reason," said a 20-year-old Bangladeshi, whose identity was concealed by the rights group. "Other detainees arrested before us also complained they had been beaten without any reason."

'The Navy boat made a U-turn and vanished'
The two survivors said they were then rounded up at night along with 500 others and forced into four rickety boats that has had their motors removed. The boats — each provided with only a 55-pound bag of rice and a few containers of drinking water for 150 people — were tied to a Navy ship and dragged for a day out into the high seas.

"When the sun disappeared in the horizon, they suddenly started cutting the rope that tied each boat to their ship," the Bangladeshi survivor said. "Then, the Navy boat made a U-turn and vanished in the dark of the night. We started drifting in the sea."

The two survivors said their food and water ran out after the first day and that the boat drifted in the open ocean for eight days. It was unclear if any among the 150 migrants on the one boat died on the journey.

"We drifted for eight days and then we suddenly saw a hill. None of us was able to move because of severe dehydration and food deficiency," a 23-year-old Rohingya survivor said, adding they survived for three days on coconuts before the India coast guard rescued them from an Andaman island.

Thousands of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas — members of a Muslim ethnic group that fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Myanmar — leave Bangladesh aboard rickety boats each year in hope of finding work in neighboring countries. In the last three years, one of the most popular migration routes was by boat to Thailand and then overland to Malaysia.

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