Living conditions of Thailand’s indigenous sea people in jeopardy

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RANONG, Nov 12 – An increasing number of land developers have encroached the habitats of the Moken ethnic community, the so-called sea gypsies in this southern Thai province on the Andaman Sea, a provincial official said Monday.

Viroj Saengsivarith, deputy governor of Ranong, expressed concern for the plight of the indigenous Moken and Urak Lawoi peoples who have lived on various islands including Lau, Sinhai, Payam and Chang.

According to an initial report, he said, about seven rai of land on Lau Island inhabited by the seafaring people have been taken over by land developers, and Land Department officials have been instructed to find out if they were granted permission to legally occupy the land.

The tsunami which struck southern Thailand in 2004 has changed the sea gypsies’ way of life though the impact was not as severe as in neighbouring Phuket, Phang-nga and Krabi provinces.

Jirasak Boonsong, an official of the Public Organisation — private body assisting the seafaring people in Ranong, said Moken are stateless people not entitled to any legal rights.

He called on the government to allow the sea gypsies to live in a provided settlement, which could be called a special cultural zone, to protect them from external encroachment.

Sidit Pramongkit, chief of the Moken dwellers on Lau island, said 201 Moken people, 39 families, currently live on the Lau, Payam and Chang Islands.