Friday, December 6, 2013

Thai officials sell refugees to traffickers


The Yomiuri Shimbun

RANONG, Thailand (Reuters)—One afternoon in October, in the watery no-man’s land between Thailand and Myanmar, Muhammad Ismail vanished.

Thai immigration officials said he was being deported to Myanmar. In fact, they sold Ismail, 23, and hundreds of other Rohingya Muslims to human traffickers, who then spirited them into brutal jungle camps.

As thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar to escape religious persecution, a Reuters investigation in three countries has uncovered a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand’s immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

The Rohingya are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in a series of camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them. Reporters located three such camps—two based on the testimony of Rohingya held there, and a third by trekking to the site, heavily guarded, near a village called Baan Klong Tor.

Thousands of Rohingya have passed through this tropical gulag. An untold number have died there. Some have been murdered by camp guards or have perished from dehydration or disease, survivors said in interviews.

The Thai authorities say the movement of Rohingya through their country doesn’t amount to human trafficking. But in interviews for this story, the Thai Royal Police acknowledged, for the first time, a covert policy called “option two” that relies upon established human-smuggling networks to rid Thailand of Rohingya detainees.

Ismail was one of five Rohingya who said that Thai immigration officials had sold him outright or aided in their sale to human traffickers. “It seemed so official at first,” said Ismail, a wiry farmer with a long narrow face and tight curly hair. “They took our photographs. They took our fingerprints. And then once in the boats, about 20 minutes out at sea, we were told we had been sold.”

Ismail said he ended up in a camp in southern Thailand. So did Bozor Mohamed, a Rohingya whose frail body makes him seem younger than his 21 years. The camp was guarded by men with guns and clubs, said Mohamed, and at least one person died every day due to dehydration or disease.


“I used to be a strong man,” the former rice farmer said in an interview, as he massaged his withered legs.

Mohamed and others say they endured hunger, filth and multiple beatings.


U.S. urges Thai investigation into alleged trafficking


(Reuters) - The United States called on Thailand on Friday to investigate allegations in a Reuters report that Thai immigration officials delivered Myanmar refugees to human trafficking rings.

"We are aware of reports alleging that Thai officials have been involved in selling Rohingya migrants to human traffickers. We urge the Thai government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

"We remain deeply concerned about the safety of and humanitarian conditions for vulnerable communities in Burma, including refugees and asylum seekers on Burma's borders and elsewhere in the region," she added.

The United Nations also called for an investigation on Friday. "These allegations need to be investigated urgently," U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan said in a statement.

The Reuters report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries, revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand's immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

The Rohingya, stateless Muslims from Myanmar, are then transported across southernThailand and held hostage in camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them, according to the Reuters report. Some are beaten and some are killed.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina Chiacu)