Tough time at Rohingya shelter
Published: 13 Feb 2013 at 18.12Online news: Local News
Rohingya illegal immigrants in temporary shelters face a rough time in the near future, forced to deal with psychological and physical challenges as isolated women and teenagers receive little or no information about their husbands and sons.
Communications is the most common and urgent issue in the holding centres, as quarrels among the Rohingya escalate, and psychological problems increase.
The International Committee of Red Cross, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), and the UN refugee agency UNHCR have access to the Rohingya in holding areas, but not to those detained at immigration centres.
On Monday, Nittaya Mukdamas, head of the Songkhla Women and Children Shelter, told a meeting in Songkhla with senior officials and members of the National Human Rights Commission that some violence had broken out at her shelter, which holds 105 people – 22 migrants from the Padangbesar Immigration Holding Centre and 83 from Sadao Immigration.
Rohingya were increasingly tense and quarrelsome amongst themselves, she said. A pregnant woman was assaulted by some other Rohingya women and was sent to the nearby Songkhla hospital on Feb 9.
A Bangkok Post reporter met the attacked woman at the shelter on Tuesday, shortly after she was discharged from the state hospital.
A soft-speaking Nuhabar, six months pregnant, was holding her 15-month-old sleepy girl in her arms while talking to the reporter through a Rohingya interpreter from Bangkok.
“I had problems twice with some women” in the camp, she said. “First, I was accused stealing their ice cubes and they snatched a bucket from me. While tussling over this, the nearby water tank tipped over, with water splashing and the plastic tank hurting me,” said Nuhabar.
Another conflict was triggered when she entered a room and switched on a fan. Sleeping women from the ice-cube incident “were shouting that they were having headaches, didn’t I see that? I told her that I didn’t know and they came to kick me and punch me in the stomach and buttock.”
Ms Nittaya added that a doctor had checked the Rohingya woman, and given an initial diagnosis of either anemia or thalassemia. The violent confrontation may have affected both her pregnancy and personal health.
Three alleged attackers have been removed from the shelter, following advice at the Monday meeting. Songkhla deputy police chief Pol Col Kriskorn Paleethunyawong suggested that if there were problems from Rohingya detained outside the immigration detention centres under care of Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, they could be punished.
Nuhabar did not seem worried about her own physical condition, and praised the Shelter’s medical help. But she was worried about when she could meet her husband who came on the same boat. He has been split from her and held in the men’s detention area.
She said she left home because there was little to eat and no opportunity in the village of Santori near a small river in western Myanmar.
“People got tense with surrounding situations (she did not elaborate), and they moved out, so I came down to Valladen, staying for some four to five months with my mother.
“But then people said it was no longer safe, and many went to sea, so my husband brought us to the sea as well,” said Nuhabar. She said she did not know exactly how old she was.
Her boat drifted in the Andaman Sea for 13 days before the Myanmar coast guard captured and held them four days, demanding money or goods carried by the migrants before giving them food and water and towing them back to sea.
“Two women had four-baht gold with them and they gave it to the uniformed officers,” she said. “Others gave 500 to 1,000 kyats.” They were told they were about 200 nautical miles from Malaysia but her boat’s navigator was incompetent and they ended up on the Thai coast.
A Thai fishing vessel found them and escorted the Rohingya to Thai authorities, who processed them, photographed them and sent them to a hilly shore. They crowded into a pickup truck for a one-hour trip, counted and processed again, and loaded for a longer trip.
They wound up in a hiding place, where they stayed for 10 days near Padangbesar, waiting for the inevitable police raid.
“Brokers told us that they had paid lump sums before we came, so we had to pay them back. In fact, of 130 people from our boat who landed in Thailand, some ran away,” said Nuhabar.
She now wants to meet her husband, being held at at another immigration detention centre, but she does not know where. She also wants to talk to her father and elder brother who are in Malaysia.
Nittaya said she faces two problems – communications with the Rohingya, and visitors trying to talk to the Rohingya, or simply stare at them.
Kachan Sungpet, head of the Satun Emergency House, reported problems with teenagers. Boys quarreled about bedtime, betel nut spitting control areas, cooking of food, prayer calls, and camp chores.
Some boys had emerged as natural leaders, he said, making the job of camp authorities much easier.
Mr Kachan said an imam regularly visits the boys, but camp authorities are considering whether to allow them to visit a local mosque in Satun, so they can pray and help to clean it.