BANGKOK—Almost 6,000 Rohingya boat people fleeing communal violence in western Myanmar have illegally entered Thai waters since October, an army spokesman said Thursday.
Of the 5,899 Rohingya who entered Thai territory, 1,752 are now in Thai immigration holding centers, police stations or welfare shelters, according to the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).
Some of the others were pushed back to sea, said ISOC spokesman Dithaporn Sasasamit, although he was unable to say how many.
Thai authorities said last month that they were investigating allegations that some Rohingya arriving in Thailand had fallen into the hands of people traffickers with the involvement of army officials.
Activists say smugglers demand large sums of money from Rohingya to transport them illegally to Malaysia. Those who are unable to pay are sometimes forced into labor.
Officials have said that those Rohingya now in Thailand will be allowed to stay for six months in detention while the government works with the UN refugee agency to find third countries willing to accept them.
But they have threatened to turn away any more Rohingya refugees arriving.
Described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world, Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighboring Bangladesh and, increasingly, to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
Buddhist-Muslim unrest has left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine since June 2012.
The UN estimates that about 13,000 boat people fled Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2012 with some dying during the perilous sea voyage.