Thai authorities Tuesday detained the group, including 20 children, from an unsafe vessel off Bon Island, in Phuket province, 600 kilometres south-west of Bangkok.“We would like the UNHCR to be the ones who determine whether these boat people are political refugees,” said Sunai Phasuk, Thailand representative for Human Rights Watch.

Bangkok has said it will conduct the screening.

“We will place them in a temporary camp and investigate whether they are political refugees, economic migrants or the victims of human trafficking,” government spokesman Tossapon Seriraksa said.

“Once we have determined the situation, we will decide whether to deport them or allow them to seek asylum in third countries,” hesaid.

Sunai also urged Thailand to “discontinue its past policy of pushing Rohingya back to sea.” Thailand drew international criticism in January 2009, when the navy turned back several boats in poor condition carrying Rohingya refugees, at least one of which sank in Indian waters, drowning its passengers.//DPA