Source phuketwan, 1 Jan
PHUKET: These photographs may alarm aid agencies working with Burmese boatpeople throughout the region. They should also alarm the members of Asean, where the issue of the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya is being kept low-key in complicity.
We believe this is the first time children as young as three years of age have been photographed on a Rohingya vessel. The boat also has women on it, too.
Over the years that the Rohingya have been fleeing discriminatory treatment and outright persecution in Burma, the boats sailing south past Phuket in search of sanctuary have consisted of men and boys.
At times, some of the passengers have been very young. A Rohingya boat that landed north of Phuket on November 10 contained 56 teenagers. The youngest boy was 14. Another 46 on board were aged under 26.
In four years of covering the epic voyages of the fleeing Rohingya, we've never seen or heard of women on board - except for one rare case - until today.
And what the leader of the latest group of 74 boatpeople told us today indicated that many more women and young children will be taking to the sea in ricketty vessels.
Why? Well in the past, Rohingya males would protect their women and children by leaving them at home, safe. But since June, when ''community violence'' flared in Burma's Rakhine state, thousand of them have been burned from their homes.
Today there is no longer a safe place - a home - for many Rohingya to leave their women and children. The homes have been destroyed.
The displaced persons camps where thousands now live in squalor are reported to be limited in what they can offer. Children are malnourished. Proper aid doesn't seem to get through to everyone.
Mohamad, 45, leader on the newly arrived boat off Phuket, told us: ''Our families put to sea because there is no hope in Burma. If we stay, we will die.''
So the outcasts are now being forced to flee their homeland in record numbers, with sailings virtually every day. The campaign of ethnic cleansing, tacitly approved by the Burmese government, achieves its aim incrementally with every boatload of Rohingya that takes to the Andaman Sea.
The Rohingya fringe dwellers face the classic choice: the devil or the deep blue sea. And the huge numbers - 10,000 are reported to have already taken to the water this October-April ''sailing season'' - indicate the devil is winning, one way or another.
We were shocked today to see 10 children under the age of 10 on the latest Rohingya boat, along with 14 women, most of whom appeared to be teenagers. Three of the children, two boys and a girl, are aged just three.
To see the kids on the boat today scoffing uncooked noodles, straight from packets provided by the Thai Navy and local police, is an indication of what life has been like for them in the 13 days the open boat has taken to reach Phuket.
Provisions on board consist of dried rice, reconstituted with water. There is no cooking.
These photographs and this story should shame the politicians of Asean - especially in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, Burma's near neighbors.
Men and boys have been allowed to drown or to fall into the hands of people traffickers covertly and consistently by this hard-hearted bunch, who maintain the treatment of Rohingya is an ''internal issue'' for Burma and does not warrant interference.
The likelihood of pending deaths of Rohingya women and children this ''sailing season'' should shake even the hard-heads in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta.
The children and families on the stranded vessel are being allowed to sleep tonight on board at anchor off southern Phuket. Rawai is a tourist departure point where international visitors zip past on speedboats or in longtails every day.
The likelihood is that these boatpeople will be ''helped on'' - the term for providing supplies and fuel to keep out the refugees that Thailand doesn't want - first thing tomorrow.
Efforts were being made by Phuket's small Rohingya community tonight to try to prevent these families falling into the hands of the notorious border people smugglers.
Usually Rohingya boats that land in southern Thailand are given over to the traffickers, who charge about 55,000 baht a head for safe passage to Malaysia.
If the passengers cannot pay, they are ''indentured'' as slave labor onto trawlers or into other hard, menial work for as long as 12 months.
It's not known how the people traffickers - called snakeheads for good reason in Hong Kong - would deal with children and young teenage girls.
Asean's coverup of the Rohingya has entered a potentially chilling new period with the arrival of this boat - and with the publication of these photos.
The question is, will the members of Asean now face up to their international obligations and put a stop to this alarming seaborne trade in human misery?