They died from hopelessness
Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Newspaper section: News
Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. Not only that, time also makes you forget and helps you to move on. In one particular case, it seems time has made Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the people of Thailand forget about the Rohingya refugees.
Before the Songkran riot, before Sondhi Limthongkul’s attempted assassination, before the Thaksin phone-ins and before the controversy over appointing the new police chief, the Rohingya was the issue that rocked the young prime minister’s newly appointed government.
In January, Rohingya refugees arrived on the shores of Thailand. The story made headlines across the world due to alleged abuses by Thai security forces – abuses that included accusations of systematic torture and shipping them back out to sea with no food or water, to die. PM Abhisit went on CNN and other western media outlets, promising to investigate the matter and to rectify the Rohingya problem.
The media submitted photos and video clips of the alleged torture to the authorities. An internal government investigation found the evidence inconclusive, and then everyone forgot about the Rohingya.
We all moved on until this past week’s reports that two Rohingya refugees, or illegal immigrants, died in the detention centre in Ranong. According to human rights activists, Abdul Salam, 18, died two months ago after vomiting blood several times. Last week Hammatula, 15, died without any signs of distress. However, Thongchai Keeratihatthayakorn, a doctor in Ranong, said the two had died of sudden inflammation of the heart.
An 18-year-old and a 15-year-old died from heart attacks? That’s suspicious. Some reports speculate that they died from starvation. That’s more likely, but yet they were fed regularly at the detention centre. Did they starve themselves to death on purpose? But then, to what purpose?
See also: Despair, then death: the Rohingya riddle
No, heart attack or starvation may have been the nail in the coffin, but the true cause of their death was hopelessness. According to a source who’s a doctor at the detention centre, the detainees received food and medical care in the Ranong detention centre. Which obviously wasn’t five-star service, but nor was it death-inducing.
What the two Rohingya lacked, according to the source, was hope, a future.
Why were they hopeless?
Seven months of detention and counting, over 70 refugees (each has been fined 2,000 baht by the Ranong Court for entering Thailand illegally) cramped in a single room in a two-storey building. These aren’t hardened criminals or prisoners of war. These are simply third world villagers and peasants. People who have suffered through poverty and oppression in their homeland, then braved the sea to find new hope and opportunity, only to be allegedly abused by Thai security forces and thrown into prison. Sitting cramped and idle for seven months and counting, not knowing what’s to become of them.
The world has forgotten about them. They don’t know how long they will remain there. Nobody tells them anything. They may not have been mistreated in the detention centre, but they have been neglected and mistreated all their lives and, for the past seven months, by the Thai authorities and all those concerned at the policy level.
Neglected and mistreated because the authorities did not have the care, the time or the inclination to solve the Rohingya problem. No direction, no policy and no solution. For seven months the two Rohingya who died sat cramped and idle.
Without hope and without a future, they simply became withdrawn, stopped eating and stopped caring. They had lost the will to live. Whether it’s a sudden heart attack, vomiting to death, or simply lying down and dying – it’s all one and the same. They died from hopelessness. If things do not change, Abdul Salam and Hammatula are simply the first two to go.
Meanwhile, another 10 or so have fallen sick due to fatigue and malnutrition from their long detention. The remaining Rohingya have been transferred to the detention centre at Suan Phlu, in Bangkok.
It has been seven months since the Rohingya story first broke. From then until now, the only change for these Rohingya has been from one detention centre to another. Meanwhile, the prime minister, the media, the people of Thailand and the world have moved on to what we see as “bigger problems” – and of course, the red versus yellow and the economy are issues that affect our lives directly. What happens to 78 (minus two) Rohingya won’t change our lives any.
Deputy Immigration Bureau chief Phitak Jarusombuti said the bureau would not reveal how long the Rohingya would be detained. That’s exactly the problem. How long will they have to endure until more of them simply lose all hope, lay down and wither away?
For the world at large, time may change, time may heal, time may make us forget and move on. But for the two dead Rohingya, nothing did change for seven months. They simply sat in the same place, looked at the same walls, cramped and idle, with nothing to do but see and remember their sufferings, locked in a prison in body and mind, unable to move on. Hopelessness.