Category Archives: Rohingya_inhuman treatment by Thailand

Boatpeople Spotted Between Phuket and Krabi as Riddle of Missing Rohingya Grows, Phuket Wan

PHUKET: A vessel believed to be crammed with up to 100 Rohingya has been sighted off the coast of Krabi, near Phuket in Thailand, as the mystery over the whereabouts of thousands of boatpeople deepens.

The rickety boat was sighted off the mainland, heading for Koh Yao Yai, a small island that is home to several five-star resorts, between Krabi and Phuket.

Fishing trawlers and a network of small civilian vessels inform local district chiefs of sightings that are usually relayed to Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, which oversees safety at sea.

”We think it was definitely a Rohingya boat,” an official said. ”But we lost contact with it quickly.”

As many as 12,000 members of the Muslim minority in Burma are reported to have fled to sea to avoid persecution since October 15 but only a few hundred have fetched up along Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast, alarming activists who fear something has gone amiss.

”Where are they?” Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, which plots migration across the Bay of Bengal, told Reuters on Saturday. ”We have become very concerned.”

Back in 2009, Phuketwan journalists discovered that boatloads of Rohingya were being towed out to sea by the Thai military and left without engines or sails. Hundreds perished at sea before survivors washed ashore in India and Indonesia.

Five years on, there is no suggestion of a similar occurrence. But the families of the thousands who are now missing have no clue as to their fate.

Many could be being kept by traffickers in secret jungle camps in mangrove-covered islands along the shores of the Thai provinces of Phang Nga and Ranong, close to the border with Burma, where more than 500 boatpeople from Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh have been apprehended in recent weeks.

Almost all of those men, women and children have been taken into custody by local officials, working with Buddhist, Christian and Muslim volunteers to halt the flow of human trafficking victims through Thailand.

With each newly-discovered batch of boatpeople comes an extended debate about whether the unwanted arrivals are human trafficking victims or merely illegal immigrants.

Police and welfare organisations are reluctant to treat the arrivals as trafficked victims because funds and government accommodation are limited.

By categorising the Rohingya as ”Burmese” under laws that allow Thailand to deal more easily with unwanted arrivals from neighboring Burma, Laos and Cambodia, officials can quickly truck the apprehended groups back to the border where they are often delivered straight into the arms of human traffickers again.

The Rohingya, stateless in Burma, are denied all rights and being driven from Rakhine state by hateful Buddhist neighbors. It’s ironic that only as unwanted captives in neighboring Thailand can they achieve their aim of being categorised as Burmese citizens.

Along the coast, district authorities and village chiefs have formed networks among fishing boats to alert them to the presence of boatpeople fleeing Burma and Bangladesh.

Officials from the Department of Special Investigations and the Internal Security Operational Command in Bangkok recently visited the Andaman provinces to assess levels of human trafficking.

Of a boatload of 259 men, women and children who were apprehended near the town of Kaper, 80 Bangladeshis have been sent for processing through a court in Ranong while the other 219 are to be deported as ”Burmese Muslims.”

Burma does not accept the Rohingya as citizens so they cannot return. These people are destined for human traffickers.

Of 86 people being held in the nearby town of Kuraburi, 12 categorised as ”Burmese Muslims” are being sent to Immigration in Phang Nga while the others, all Bangladeshis, are to appear in Phang Nga court as illegal immigrants.

As trafficking networks grow along the region’s Indian Ocean coastline, growing numbers of men from Bangladesh are also being enticed onto boats in search of better jobs in Malaysia.

Bangladeshi authorities are holding five Thais who have been accused of human trafficking and other arrests have been made in Thailand.

Boatpeople Apprehended in Thailand, Sailing Season 2014-2015

September 23 37 boat people at Takaupa, categorised as illegal immigrants. Sentenced to 20 days in jail, now held by Immigration for deportation

October 11 53 boatpeople at Takaupa, categorised as victims of human trafficking, held in shelters at Ranong, Songkhla and Phang Nga

October 13 81 boatpeople at Takaupa, categorised as victims of human trafficking, held in shelters at Ranong, Songkhla and Phang Nga

October 24 boatpeople at Suksamran, categorised as illegal immigrants, sent to Ranong Immigration

October 78 boatpeople at Suksamran, Twelve ”Burmese Muslims” sent to Ranong Immigration, Bangladeshis passed to court system

November 8 299 (overnight suddenly reduced to 259) boatpeople at Kaper. 80 Bangladeshis sent Ranong court, 179 ”Burmese Muslims” at Ranong Immigration

November 11 86 boat people at Kuraburi, 12 ”Burmese Muslims” to Phang Nga Immigration, Bangladeshis to Phang Nga court

ByChutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison

Ranong villagers trained to feed and ‘push on’ Rohingya boat people

Officials in Ranong have trained some 400 villagers to watch out for illegal Rohingya ‘boat people’ and told them to alert the authorities if they see anyone from the stateless ethnic group.
The move is part of a project called “Andaman Guard”. It aims to convince migrants travelling along the route from Myanmar to Thailand not to go ashore – by providing them food, medicine and fuel so they can continue to a third country.Ranong police captured 299 Rohingya – including 23 women and 13 children – in two round-ups this month, deputy provincial chief Pol Colonel Kritsak Sungmulnak said.

The first of 104 Rohingya arrests in Ranong was recorded to have occurred in 1998, with the number of illegal migrants entering the country rising each year.

They travel the 1255km from western Myanmar to Thailand on fishing boats when the sea is generally calmer between November and April. Thousands are said to have taken to boats in recent weeks. The journey typically takes about a fortnight.

By The Nation

Thailand to push back more than 200 boat people

More than 200 boat people held in southern Thailand will be pushed back out to sea, police said on Monday, despite calls by rights group to stop a policy that puts would-be asylum seekers at risk.

Around 259 people were found at sea on Saturday and were arrested for illegal entry.

Their discovery around 3 km (1.86 miles) from the coast follows what one NGO said was a “major maritime exodus” from neighboring Myanmar of Rohingya, a mostly stateless Muslim minority group from the country’s west.

“On average around 900 people left by boat from the middle of last month. We saw a major maritime exodus of nearly 10,000 people,” said Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group, adding that increasing desperation was one reason for the departures.

Authorities in Thailand’s Kapoe district said it was unclear whether any of the group were Rohingya but interviews with some of the group showed they were heading for Malaysia to find work or, in the women’s’ cases, join their husbands.

The 259 will be put back on boats and sent back to Myanmar, said Police Colonel Sanya Prakobphol, head of Kapoe district police.

“They are Muslims from Myanmar … They are illegal migrants,” Sanya told Reuters by telephone.

“If they come in then we must push them back … once they have crossed the sea border into Myanmar then that’s considered pushing them back. What they do next is their problem.”

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012, when violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists killed hundreds and made about 140,000 homeless.

Many were Rohingya, who now often live in apartheid-like conditions and have little or no access to jobs, schools or healthcare.

The boats often sail from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand where, as Reuters reported last year, human trafficking-gangs hold thousands of boat people in brutal jungle camps until relatives pay ransoms to secure their release.

Testimonies from Bangladeshi and Rohingya survivors in an October Reuters Special Report provided evidence of a dramatic shift in human-trafficking tactics.

Sanya said the 259 people were currently being held at a community hall and that his team were “looking after them like relatives” but that they would soon be put back on boats.

“Who will feed them? I’m struggling day to day to feed them,” said Sanya.

“No country wants an outsider to come in to their house.”

Thailand was downgraded in June to the lowest category in the U.S. State Department’s annual ranking of the world’s worst human-trafficking centers, putting it in the same category as North Korea and the Central African Republic.

The same month, the Thai military vowed to “prevent and suppress human trafficking”, after having seized power from an elected government on May 22.

By: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters

Published on: 10 November 2014

 

Terrified victims of Thai trafficking face uncertain future

For at least five years, the Andaman coast of Thailand has been the scene of some horrific abuses, mainly against ethnic Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group fleeing persecution in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

In 2009, the Thai Navy was found to be towing boats packed with Rohingyas out to sea, and leaving them to drift. Hundreds are believed to have died.

More recently Thai police and military personnel have been accused of selling Rohingyas who washed up on Thailand’s shores to human traffickers.

These abuses are in part what caused Thailand to be downgraded to the lowest rank in the annual US report on human trafficking.

Successive Thai governments have promised to stamp out this scourge.

But the recent discovery of 171 mainly Bangladeshi men being held captive in jungle camps shows how much still needs to be done.

What started as opportunistic exploitation of Rohingyas appears to have mutated into an organised slave trade.

Repeated beatings

Eighty-one of the men are now being sheltered in a local government hall in the town of Takua Pa. They sit there listlessly, some nursing ugly wounds inflicted by their captors.

At times, tears slide down their faces as they recall their ordeal, and think of homes and families in Bangladesh. They all tell very similar stories.

Eighteen year-old Abdurrahim still hobbles from a savage blow to his knee inflicted by one of his guards after he asked for more food.

Originally from Bogra, in northern Bangladesh, he told me he was trying to find work in the capital Dacca when an elderly man offered him a job paying around $6 (£3.73) a day.

He travelled with this man to Cox’s Bazaar, he said, and was taken to a small house up in the hills. There he was tied up, drugged, and woke up on board a boat. He spent seven or eight days at sea, he says, where he was repeatedly beaten.

After that, the group was unloaded on the Thai coast, and taken to a camp hidden in a mangrove forest. They gave us no food, he said. “We survived by eating leaves.”

Absar Mia is 27, from Teknaf, close to the border with Myanmar. He is married with three young children. “My heart is burning for home,” he said.

“All I think about is how I can get home, how I can see my mother again, how I can see my little boys and girl again. That’s why I’m crying.”

He described being offered a job by a man, and waiting for him on a hill near Teknaf. Suddenly he was grabbed, his hands tied, his mouth gagged. He said he struggled as he was taken out to a boat, and was beaten.

Ayub was working as an agricultural labourer in Chittagong, southeast Bangladesh, but he said the work ran out. A man suggested he go to Cox’s Bazaar. There he suddenly found himself being grabbed, tied up and forced onto a boat which he said was already crowded with people.

He repeatedly asked where they were taking him, but said the guards threatened to kill him if he did not shut up. He, too, has three children.

Tracked down

That they were rescued from their captors is due to the determination of local district chief, Manit Pianthiong. A 28-year veteran of the area, who got the chief’s job nine months ago, he is all too familiar with the human trafficking which goes on along the indented coastline of Takua Pa.

Mr Pianthiong says he is trying to curb all forms of smuggling, but he is focusing in particular on the human trade, which he says is damaging the image of the entire country.

He encourages people in fishing communities along the coast to alert him to any signs of large groups of people being held. That is how he heard about these three groups of mainly Bangladeshi men, and a few Rohingyas.

The first group of 37 was found last month. Then, on 11 October, his men tracked down another group of 53.

The last group, of 81, was surrounded in a forest camp near the road on 13 October. They had been driven by their guards from one camp to another in an attempt to evade the authorities. Mr Pianthiong believes many more were not rescued, and may have been sold.

Two of the guards have now been detained. One of them was identified by the Bangladeshis as the most brutal of their captors, a man they called Keke.

Whether this man, and his bosses, are brought to justice, depends on the government in Bangkok.

Illegal immigrants

Mr Pianthiong said he wants to go after the trafficking kingpins in the region, people with powerful connections. But that would require him to get much stronger backing, and so far that is not happening.

Senior figures in the police and the social welfare ministry are resisting his efforts to have all the Bangladeshi men classified as victims of trafficking.

The second group of 53 has already been given that status, which gives them proper support and shelter, and would allow them to go back to Bangladesh quickly.

However, the police are talking about reversing that decision. Instead, they want then to be jailed as illegal immigrants.

It is difficult to know why they want this outcome, for people who have all the appearance of victims.

Perhaps it is to avoid having to admit that trafficking continues in Thailand. Perhaps it is because they are reluctant to go after the trafficking kingpins.

The result, though, could be disastrous for the Bangladeshis. People have been known to be stuck in Thai immigration prisons for many years. In the case of Rohingyas, some were actually sold back to human traffickers.

How Thailand handles the case of these men will surely be a test of its declared willingness to turn its back on a shameful record of trafficking, and take meaningful action to end the trade in people.

By: Jonathan Head, BBC News

53 Migrants Detained After Thai Trafficking Bust

RANGOON — Scores of refugees are in detention after being rescued by Thailand’s anti-human trafficking police from a rubber plantation just north of Phuket in Thailand’s Phang Nga province.

The 53 men were found by police in an early morning raid on Saturday. Two male Thai nationals have been arrested on charges of human trafficking.

Many of the victims were Rohingya Muslims who lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing communal violence and other forms of persecution in western Burma’s Arakan State. Some of the victims, however, said that they were from Bangladesh.

The group was reportedly intercepted by human traffickers after setting off by boat to seek jobs in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Htoo Chit, executive director of Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, met the trafficking victims in a Phang Nga detention center.

“When I went to meet them,” said Htoo Chit, “some of them showed me their cards from UNHCR [the United Nations refugee agency], which prove that they are from Myanmar [Burma]. They moved to the Bangladesh border because they could stay there as refugees, as they had many difficulties [in Burma].”

The men were taken into police custody at around 4 am on Saturday morning, he said, adding that another group of about 30 refugees were also discovered and detained on the same day.

Thirty-seven people—including an unknown number of women—were detained earlier this month in a similar operation.

Most of the victims will remain in police custody until they can be repatriated, said Htoo Chit, but those who have identified themselves as Rohingya may face longer detention as they are not citizens of either Burma or Bangladesh.

Victims said that they had initially left Bangladesh on a small boat, after being promised jobs in Malaysia by an employment broker. The risky voyage across the Andaman Sea is common this time of year, as the monsoon season winds die down and waters are less volatile.

The journey can be deadly nonetheless; many migrants and refugees die en route as the small, poorly equipped boats frequently capsize or run out of supplies. Those that complete the journey run other risks, such as being intercepted by human traffickers.

Some of the victims detained on Saturday told Htoo Chit that they were transferred from their small boat to a bigger one, which idled in the sea waiting for the refugees to arrive.

“They told me that it took them 19 days to get from Bangladesh to Thailand. They had to stop several times along the way. They spent five days on a small Thai Island, and then they went to the plantation where they were supposed to be taken by car to Malaysia,” he said.

While the dangerous voyage has become increasingly common over the past two years—after communal violence tore apart communities, claimed hundreds of lives and displaced more than 100,000 people—Saturday’s incident had some alarming distinctions.

At least one victim said that he was neither an asylum seeker nor an economic refugee. A man wishing to be referred to simply as Mohamed told Htoo Chit that his hands were bound and he was forced to get on the boat, indicating that some of the victims may have been kidnapped.

Other media reports have cited similar accounts. Agence France-Presse cited an anonymous Thai official saying that, “Some of them were knocked out with anesthetic and taken to the boat, some were tricked … but they did not intend to come to Thailand.”

Htoo Chit described the victims, who still face an indeterminate detention in the crowded Thai facility, as malnourished and weak.

“All of them look very tired, like their bodies have not had enough food,” he said. “They were lying on the floor when we got there.”

More than 140,000 people, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims, were displaced by several rounds of communal riots that began in Arakan State in June 2012. Most are still living in crowded displacement camps where they are systematically denied access to basic health care, education and other resources. Chronically dire conditions for displaced persons have led many to flee again; some seek asylum in Bangladesh, while many others head south to seek refuge in Malaysia.

The United Nations estimated in June 2014 that more than 86,000 people had attempted the perilous route across the Andaman Sea since June 2012. Newer UN data claims that more than 20,000 have made the trip since the start of 2014 alone.

By: Lawi Weng, The Irrawaddy

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