A boat allegedly carrying more than 50 Rohingya stopped in Krabi province on Sunday before being “allowed to proceed” to Malaysia, local citizens said.
Photographs of the vessel and the people on board, including women and children, were posted on Facebook.
There was confusion over whether the 56 passengers on board were refugees and whether they might seek sanctuary or refugee status in Thailand.
Initial reports from local people suggested the boat had had an engine problem.
But an ‘official’ later claimed the vessel – believed to be the first since the crisis involving Rohingya refugees trafficked through camps in Thailand three years ago – was said to have hit bad weather off Koh Lanta early in the morning, according to a report by AFP.
Ships carrying Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar used to be a common sight on the Andaman coast prior to a crackdown in mid-2015 after “death camps” set up by human traffickers were found near the Malaysian border.
That lead to the discovery of more than 100 bodies and dozens of traffickers being charged by police.
Late last year, about 700,000 fled from Rakhine State to Bangladesh after attacks by an insurgent group spurred violence by the Myanmar military which the UN likened to ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Humanitarian groups and journalists have been warning that boatloads of Rohingya may attempt to travel to Malaysia in seek of work and better opportunities because of bleak conditions in refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar and little real prospect of them returning to Rakhine State.
Journalist Alan Morison, who previously ran the Phuketwan website on the Andaman coast, shared photos on Facebook of the ‘Rohingya’ which he said were posted by local citizens yesterday.
“According to locals, the group identified themselves as Rohingya, although none of the boatpeople could speak the Thai language,” he wrote.
“On the boat, sources say, were 19 men, 18 women, eight boys and 11 girls. The boat was first spotted at sea between the islands of Koh Har and Koh Lanta about 4am. According to the source, the arrivals were ‘definitely Rohingya’.”